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Catharina Löffler

in the City
Urban Experience and Literary
Psychogeography in
Eighteenth-Century London
Walking in the City
Catharina Löffler

Walking in the City

Urban Experience and Literary
Psychogeography in
Eighteenth-Century London
Catharina Löffler
Giessen, Germany

Die Dissertation wurde durch das Graduiertenstipendium der JLU gefördert

ISBN 978-3-658-17742-3 ISBN 978-3-658-17743-0  (eBook)

DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-17743-0
Library of Congress Control Number: 2017936479

J.B. Metzler
© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017
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To Carla and Christoph
Prefatory Remarks

How does the world enter the text? There is a long history of attempts to
understand the world-production or 'worldedness' of literature, from the
Aristotelian concept of mimesis to Marxist concepts of reflection and
postmodernist metafiction. Catharina Löffler's dissertation on eighteenth-
century London writings profits from these traditions as well as from
more recent research on concepts of space in literary and cultural studies.
Her model for unlocking experiences of urban spaces is psychogeography,
a term that originated in the French postwar avantgarde and that has been
adopted as a creative principle by a number of contemporary British
writers from Peter Ackroyd to Will Self.
But how useful is psychogeography for literary and cultural
studies? Löffler is certainly right to draw attention to the danger of using
this term ubiquitously and uncritically. Instead, she aims for
unprecedented analytic and methodological precision in her definition of
psychogeography for literary studies. Her approach is even more original
and daring because she applies the toolkit of psychogeography to
eighteenth-century texts. Her work offers a descriptive model of historical
urban imaginaries that seek to mediate between subjective representations
and objective (social, physical) elements of reality, between the fictional
and the factual. The selection of case studies presents paradigmatic
examples of different categories and text types, ranging across the entire
century from Ned Ward's London Spy to Wordsworth and Blake, also
including less well-known writers such as Thomas Brown and John
Thelwall. The result is a fascinating and highly readable tour of London as
seen through the eyes and ears of eighteenth-century urban walkers.
However different the texts examined here may otherwise be in
terms of genre, authors, conditions of emergence and target audiences,
they all share (in the sense of family resemblances) the central mobile
figure of a walker and his/her psycho-physical perceptions of the
metropolis. What is at stake here is less the concrete content of these
perceptions than their shared structure; frequently, similar to the
situationist dérive, the eighteenth-century rambles combine topographical
data with figments of imagination, occasionally (as in Defoe or Blake)
with historical, political or religious ideas that give them a quasi-energetic
VIII Prefatory Remarks

Both systematic and exploratory, the book shows how urban

writing from this period provides textual analogues of new experiences of

an expanding city. It also demonstrates that this expanding city calls for
new forms of subjectivity and sociability, enabling new degrees of
freedom and mobility while also curtailing and containing mobility
through regulatory measures, particularly for women and the lower
classes. I think this is a remarkable study not because it applies a modern
concept (psychogeography) to eighteenth-century literature, nor because it
bundles a certain number of texts into a new genre. Rather, it is the careful
description of a range of possibilities for literature to respond to, and co-
create, new urban spaces and experiences that makes this work a relevant
contribution to the field.
In wishing that this book may find many interested readers, I also
wish to express my conviction that these readers will enjoy Löffler's
combination of theoretical acumen with philological insight and her clear,
jargon-free style. Having studied this dissertation, readers will know a
little more, finally, about the question – so simple and yet so complex –
how the world ends up in texts.

Gießen, September 2016 Prof. Dr. Ingo Berensmeyer

Preface and Acknowledgements

The present study attempts to apply a fresh approach to the study of

literary London and extends prior work on the ideas of psychogeography
and the literary city. It was accepted as a doctoral dissertation at the
University of Gießen, Germany in 2016.

I wish to thank my first supervisor, Ingo Berensmeyer (JLU Gießen) for

his continuous support and encouragement. His constructive comments
have challenged and enriched my ideas over the process of writing this
thesis. I also express my warmest gratitude to my co-supervisor Clare
Brant (King’s College London) whose suggestions and extraordinary
insights into eighteenth-century London life and literature were
invaluable. Without Ingo’s and Clare’s guidance, persistent help and,
above all, their warm-heartedness, this study would not have been
possible. Thank you both ever so much!

I also owe thanks to the International PhD Programme Literary and

Cultural Studies (IPP). The IPP has enabled me to present and discuss my
work at various international conferences and has funded two extended
research stays in London during which I walked in the footsteps of
eighteenth-century London walkers and was able to dig up literary
London journeys from the archives of the British Library. It was also
during these stays that I fell irrevocably in love with London.

I am indebted to my family and friends whose moral support did a long

way to helping me through the ups and downs of the dissertation journey.
My warmest gratitude goes to my husband Patrick and to Carolin and
Constantin who have made available their support in a number of
indescribable ways. Thanks also to my friends and colleagues Jule,
Andrea and Martin for reading parts of my manuscript and for always
being there for me.

Finally, my heartfelt appreciation goes to my parents Carla and Christoph

for their unconditional and lifelong support. It is to them that this book is
Gießen, September 2016 Catharina Löffler

Prefatory Remarks VII

Preface and Acknowledgements IX
Contents XI
List of Abbreviations XIV

Introduction: Psychogeography and the Literary City 1

Conceptualising and Historicising Psychogeography 19

1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature 21

1.1 Real and Imagined Cities 22
1.1.1 Literary and Cultural Studies and the Concept of Space 22
1.1.2 Urban Imaginaries and Cities Real and Imagined 27
1.1.3 Experiencing the Urban Imaginary at Street-Level 36
1.2 Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 42
1.2.1 Psychogeography and the Situationist International 43
1.2.2 Literary Psychogeography, or what is
Psychogeographical Writing? 50
1.2.3 Literary Psychogeography: Now and Then 60

2. Bodies and Spaces: Eighteenth-Century Literary

Psychogeography and the London Walker 65
2.1 From Ashes to Phoenix: London Destroyed and Rebuilt 66
The City Destroyed: “London Was, but Is No More” 66
The City Rebuilt: Resurgam – I Shall Rise 71
2.2 Into the Streets: Walking in Eighteenth-Century London 79
The Street 79
Public Perambulation:
Promenades, Pleasure Gardens and the Crowd 85
London Walkers 90
XII Contents

2.3 Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography:

From Experience to Text 95
2.3.1 Experiencing the City:
Themes in Literary Psychogeography 96
Blends of Fact and Fiction 96
Sense of Place 99
Dark Visions of the City 101
Multi-Sensory Experiences 107

2.3.2 Experiencing the Text:

Formal Elements of Literary Psychogeography 114
Focalisation 114
Multimodality 117
Rhetorics of Walking 119

London Imaginaries: Walking Experiences in a Changing City 125

3 The Art of Walking 127

3.1 John Gay’s Trivia:
Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 128
3.2 John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 157
3.3 Conclusion 181

4. “A History of Darkness, Pain and Fear”:

Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 185

5. Grub Street Writings and London Low Life 215

5.1 Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 217
5.2 Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 241
5.3 Conclusion 261
Contents XIII

6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City 265

6.1 The Fallen Woman:
Moll Flanders (1722) and The Midnight-Ramble (1754) 266
6.2 The Compliant Woman: Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) 278
6.3 Conclusion 287

7. Romantic Visions of the City

William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 293

Conclusion: How Does the World Enter the Text? 319

Bibliography 329
List of Abbreviations

ASC Amusements Serious and Comical.

Evelina Evelina.
JPY A Journal of the Plague Year.
LS The London Spy.
MF Moll Flanders.
MR A Midnight Ramble.
Peripatetic The Peripatetic.
Prelude The Prelude.
Trivia Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London
Psychogeography and the Literary City

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,

Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,

In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry

Every blackning Church appals,
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear

How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

William Blake, “London”1

London, in Blake’s eponymous poem, is bleak, nightmarish and full of

death symbolism. The poem creates a vision of London dominated by
poverty and oppression, radiating prophetic anxiety with a powerful
transformative quality. In “London,” Blake evokes a city that is

Blake, William. “London.” 1794. The Complete Poems. Ed. Alicia Ostriker. London:
Penguin, 1977.

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017

C. Löffler, Walking in the City,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-17743-0_1
2 Introduction

simultaneously real and imagined. Reiterations may suggest the sense of a

unitary experience of the city, but it soon emerges that the vision of the
city in “London” rests upon a dynamic imaginary topography that relies
on fleeting, chance encounters. It is the peripatetic act – spatial and
temporal – conducted by a walking figure that gradually unfolds the city
and permits encounters with people, buildings, streets and ominous
sounds. Tracing the city with his steps2, his eyes and his ears, thus
experiencing the city synaesthetically, the peripatetic figure depends on
coincidences and the arbitrariness of impressions, but at the same time he
constructs the city as oppressive force. Indeed, the oppressive atmosphere
in the city is striking, but it is not the city itself that generates oppression
but rather the fact that it has been “charter’d” and has become politically,
economically and socially controlled. As a consequence of London’s
utilitarian geography as displayed in Blake’s poem, the city prevents
human life rather than enabling it. It thus appears that Blake’s London
cannot be understood as a straightforward representation of London in the
year 1794, but as a uniquely complex literary and imaginary vision of the
same.3 It is this complexity that I want to interrogate: in an attempt to
approach texts that design different and individual visions and versions of
eighteenth-century London, it unites concepts of literary theory, urban
studies and psychogeography to discover the many different imaginary
Londons of eighteenth-century literature. While psychogeography and the
study of literary spaces provide the theoretical frame, a historical angle is
given by investigating these relations in literature from the eighteenth
century. As such, this book can thus be understood as a contribution to
I would like to stress here that the walker can be male and female. For reasons of
readability, however, I will use the personal pronoun “he” throughout this study unless
the peripatetic figure is specifically female (see, for instance, chapter 6, “Women
Walkers and Female Experiences of the City”).
For a detailed analysis of “London” see Thompson (1993) or Wolfreys (1998).
Introduction 3

understanding the city in relation to imaginary and subjective experiences

of spatiality. I thereby specifically seek to explore the nexus between the
human psyche and geography in literary manifestations of urban
experiences. Based on this, key questions addressed are: how do
individuals construct space through their behaviour, experiences, gender,
class affiliation and other social and cultural factors? How can a
methodology based on psychogeography be used to approach literary
cities and literary representations of urban experiences? How do
eighteenth-century precursors of literary psychogeography need to be
understood in relation to the 1950s practice of psychogeography? And,
finally, what does eighteenth-century literary psychogeography about
London reveal about everyday life in the English metropolis?

State of Research
The study of spaces and the study of literary cities have become an
inseparable pair and “one of the fastest growing forums of discussions in
recent years” (Tinkler-Villani 2005: xiv). In fact, the majority of recent
studies on urban literature reveal a concern with spatiality, a development
that harks back to the spatial turn, an increasing interest in the study of
spaces surfacing in the 1980s.4 While by now, the catchword spatial turn
may at best force a weary smile from scholars across disciplines – the
importance of space is now long uncontested – studies of space in general
and urban spaces in particular undeniably constitute a large part of
research conducted in the fields of literary and cultural studies. At least
since Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City (1973), the city as
one particular category of space, urban space, has been one major focus of

See, for instance, Chandler and Gilmartin (2005), Gurr and Raussert (2011), Hammond
(2001), McKellar (2013), Wall (1998) and Wolfreys (1998).
4 Introduction

spatial studies and literary studies. Within this research there can be found
a number of different currents and trends concerned with questions of
mapping, exploring and analysing spatial data and literary referentiality.
Westphal (2011)5 and Tally (2014)6, for instance, currently propose a
“geo-centered rather than ego-centered approach” to the study of space.
Thus, they argue, “one may undertake a geocritical study of a city, a
region, a territory, and so on, rather than studying a given author’s
treatment of that place” (Westphal 2011: xiv). The main aim of a
geocritical approach is thereby “to understand the real and fictional spaces
that we inhabit, cross through, imagine, survey, modify, celebrate,
disparage, and on and on in an infinite variety” (ibid. x). Principally, Tally
and Westphal’s methodology of geocriticism rests on four elements: a
multi-focalisation of places, a poly-sensuous approach to places, a
stratigraphic vision of places and an intertextuality of places.7 In their
works, both Westphal and Tally map a broad landscape of theoretical
positions on spaces and literature and include innumerable examples from
fiction. While they stress the benefits of a geocritical approach in literary
studies and point out fertile connections to other disciplines and areas of
social and cultural theory, specifically this breadth of geocriticism stands
in the way of putting the theoretical framework into operation. Close
geocritical readings of literary spaces thus remain scarce and the overall
objectives and potentials of geocriticism are still obscure. Along similar
lines are the fields of literary geography and literary cartography. In the
latter field, Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900
(1998) is considered a pioneering work. In the Atlas, Moretti presents

Cf. Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces.
Cf. Geocritical Explorations: Space, Place, and Mapping in Literary and Cultural
For detailed explanations of each of these elements, see Westphal 2014: 111f.
Introduction 5

close to one hundred maps on which he charts the geographical

whereabouts of literary plots and literary characters, as well as the
geographical distribution of novels as such. “Making the connection
between geography and literature explicit,” he claims, “will allow us to
see some significant relationships that have so far escaped us” (Moretti
1998: 3). His main findings include the convictions that space is a
generator of ideas and that literary spaces commonly reflect social,
political or historical dimensions. Ever since space has reasserted itself
across the disciplines, such conclusions, are, however, somehow a given.
While Moretti succeeds in visualising the connections between space and
literature and thereby offers an interesting additional dimension to reading
in general, the Atlas fails to include one crucial dimension of literature,
namely the dimension of the imaginary. In the Atlas, material entities are
mapped but, as abstract entities, the fictional dimension of literature
cannot be graphically represented. The field of digital humanities takes
this even one step further: by providing statistical, empirical and
quantitative analyses of a vast corpus of literary texts8, digital humanities
allow more patterns to emerge that can then be subjected to critical
analysis.9 While digital humanities transcend the subjective and permit a
more objective view of literature, the approach developed in this book
seeks to explore the subjective, the emotional and the psychological
dimensions of writing and reading about urban experiences. Indeed,
literary representations of spaces always carry with them the notions of
subjectivity and fictionality. As Jahn and Buchholz argue,

Cf. Moretti’s Distant Reading 2013.
For a recent literature-related project in the Digital Humanities, see, for example
Moretti, Frank and Heuser’s The Emotions of London at the Literary Lab at Stanford
University (
6 Introduction

human […] conceptions of space always include a subject who is

affected by (and in turn affects) space, a subject who experiences and
reacts to space in a bodily way, a subject who ‘feels’ space through
existential living conditions, mood, and atmosphere (Jahn and
Buchholz 2005: 553).
Following on from this, spatial conceptions and literary representations of
the latter always involve subjectivity. The interaction between reality and
fictional representations of that reality are therefore particularly
interesting when it comes to understanding individual explorations of
space in a literary dimension. Against the backdrop of these
developments, the complex interplay of the subjective, the imaginary, the
fictional and the real in literary representations of urban spaces is the point
from where this study proceeds. While necessarily following some
assumptions of a geocritical approach, most notably the multi-focalisation
of a given geographical space, this study follows its own theory and
methodology, based on psychogeography and literary theory.
Psychogeography, a term implying a combination of psychology and
geography, describes spatial experiences in relation to social, physical,
historical, psychological and geographical dimensions of everyday life.
With its roots in theories of new urbanism, psychogeography indicates the
impact of urban space on and its significance for individuals who set out
to experience the city. The term as such was coined by the 1950s
Situationist International, a Parisian group of social activists whose aim
was to counteract the shift from individual experience and individual
expression to mass-consumerism. Their practices, including
psychogeographical explorations of urban space, were intended to develop
a new, non-collective awareness of the urban landscape that put the
individual at the heart of urban experiences. Psychogeography thus builds
on subjectivity, too, as it prioritises the emotional and psychological
dimensions of urban experiences. Although the Situationist International
Introduction 7

dissolved not long after it was founded, psychogeography has, particularly

since the 1990s, received some popular attention in academic, non-
academic and artistic circles and has been further developed in many
different ways so that by now, the term as such has come into public
usage. A lot of research has been conducted on psychogeography so far
with the majority of studies focussing on its 1950s political and activist
context.10 Moreover, a considerable number of single essays have put the
focus on psychogeography in a number of different contexts and
disciplines: psychogeography and architecture (cf. Borden 2000; Conway
1995), psychogeography and music (cf. Mollaghan 2015; Redhead 2014)
or psychogeography and film (cf. Pucill 2006; Wasielewski 2009). What
is more, there are many web- and technology-based ways of dealing with
psychogeography, such as “Psychogeographic Destination Kits” (2012),
websites featuring psychogeographical ideas or organisations11, or
psychogeographical apps such as the dérive app which “gets you lost in
your city” and facilitates an “exploration of urban space in a random
unplanned way” (N.N. 2013). The research across disciplines confirms
that psychogeography is neither a concept which is tied to a single
discipline nor to scholarship or academia; rather, its diverse uses and
applications speak for a broad field in which psychogeography may be
applied to explore individual experiences of everyday life. Coverley, too,
emphasises the broadness of the term psychogeography:
Are we talking about a predominantly literary movement or a political
strategy, a series of new age ideas or a set of avant-garde practices?
The answer, of course, is that psychogeography is all of these things,

For the most recent ones see Ford (2005), McDonough (2002), McDonough (2009) and
Sadler (1998).
8 Introduction

resisting definition through a shifting series of interwoven themes and

constantly being reshaped by its practitioners (Coverley 2010: 9–10).

Merlin Coverley’s Psychogeography (2010) is, in fact, the first study to

acknowledge the literary developments and manifestations of
psychogeography and, by doing so, to link psychogeography with the field
of literary studies.12 According to Coverley, psychogeographical ideas
have mainly been expressed in specifically literary contexts and thus, he
investigates psychogeography within literary explorations of the city.
Although Coverley’s study lacks a definition of literary psychogeography
and therefore a precise understanding of the concept, it provides an
interesting overview of psychogeography’s literary tradition starting with
Daniel Defoe and ending with Will Self. In between, he discusses literary
works by Thomas de Quincey, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Machen
and Alfred Watkins and grippingly illustrates their psychogeographical
traces, albeit with regrettable brevity. Moreover, Coverley names Daniel
Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (1722) as “the prototype
psychogeographical report” (Coverley 2010: 15) that provided “the
imaginative impetus for psychogeographical ideas” (ibid. 17).
Determining Defoe’s Journal as the starting point for psychogeography’s
literary tradition, however, seems more or less arbitrary. Even though
Coverley’s focus lies on literary expressions of psychogeography, his
chronology of psychogeography’s literary tradition remains cursory and
frequent strays away from literature, such as excursions to the filmmaker
Patrick Keiller or to Michel de Certeau’s theories on urban wandering
distract from Coverley’s initial aim to “place psychogeography within a
predominantly literary tradition” (Coverley 2010: 14). Overall, while

There had been only a few single essays on psychogeography in literature before
Coverley’s monograph. See, for instance, Ho (2006) or Pittard (2009).
Introduction 9

Coverley’s reflections on the literary dimension of psychogeography are a

promising approach to literary explorations of the city, they are still in
need of a more systematic and more compact implementation. A study
that pinpoints the characteristics of literary psychogeography has thus not
yet been part of the research carried out in the field of tracking the origins
and literary traditions of psychogeography, a gap which this book seeks to

Following Coverley’s argument that psychogeography can be traced in
literature, psychogeography and the study of literary cities provides the
theoretical frame for my study. A historical angle and a fixed geographical
focus are given by investigating literary explorations and experiences of
the city in eighteenth-century London. I pursue three main objectives:
Firstly, I show that psychogeography has to be dislocated from
the narrow context of the 1950s Situationist International and from this
particular time, place and context. Instead, psychogeography as the
exploration of the nexus between mind and spatial surroundings comes in
many forms. This study particularly focuses on the literary dimensions of
psychogeography and, after defining literary psychogeography in a
theoretical frame, looks at literary texts in which individuals set out on
psychogeographical explorations of the city.
Secondly, I provide a historical angle to the theoretical frame of
literature and psychogeography by offering textual analyses centring
around a selection of eighteenth-century London texts. By conceptualising
and historicising psychogeography and its literary dimension, it is my aim
to demonstrate the potential of a psychogeographical methodology for the
study of literary texts. I also examine how far a methodology based on
10 Introduction

psychogeography bears potential for literary studies in general and

approaches to literary representations of urban spaces in particular.
Literary studies, I argue, can profit from such an approach because it can
be applied (1) to comprehend the complex interplay of reality and literary
representations of that reality and the emergence of what I call urban
imaginaries; (2) as a new approach to grasp the subjectivity inherent in
literary representations of urban space; (3) to understand the reciprocal
relationship between mind and space and (4) to discover in what way
social, physical, historical and psychological dimensions of everyday life
influence individual perceptions and literary constructions of urban space.
Thirdly, by engaging with a variety of different eighteenth-
century literary representations of London that centre round subjective
perceptions of the city, this study provides an outline of the multi-
focalisation of London. In that way, it moves beyond a single perspective
on the city13 and instead examines a multiplicity of urban experiences so
as to show that eighteenth-century London could indeed be approached
from a wide range of thematic and generic perspectives The primary texts
I have selected are, therefore, neither confined to works by a single
author, nor confined to a single genre; on the contrary, proceeding from
the premise that literary psychogeography can be traced across genres, the
analyses include readings of novels (Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Burney’s
Evelina), poems (Gay’s Trivia, Wordsworth’s Book VII of The Prelude),
periodicals (Brown’s Amusements, Ward’s The London Spy) and literary
texts that are generically obscure (Thelwall’s The Peripatetic, Defoe’s A
Journal of the Plague Year). By working with a corpus this broad,
including works written by well-known authors as well as works written

Compare, for instance, Lindsay’s Monster City: Defoe's London, 1688-1730 (1978) or
Wolfrey’s study of Dickens’ London, Dickens's London: Perception, Subjectivity and
Phenomenal Urban Multiplicity (2012)
Introduction 11

by lesser-known, almost forgotten authors, this study allows different

views on London and thus provides multiple perspectives on the
eighteenth-century English capital. The corpus covers a time frame of
close to 100 years. In that way, this study sketches the continuous
developments of literary presentations of eighteenth-century London and
thereby demonstrates the immediate effects of London’s urbanisation as
well as its wider-reaching consequences. Hence, the selected texts differ
in their origin, social, authorial or cultural circumstances, and their literary
reputation, and nevertheless they all share a common ground: Each text is
a literary representation of eighteenth-century London experiences. These
experiences are mediated via the agency of a peripatetic figure who, by
moving through the city on foot, is immersed in the cityscape and actively
engages with his urban surroundings and whose experiences are triggered
by pedestrian perambulation. Because the terminology used to describe
walking figures is not only broad but also rather undifferentiated, I
introduce a new concept, namely that of the London walker, not only to
describe the peripatetic figure who sets out on psychogeographical
explorations of the city, but also to distinguish it from other types of
walkers.14 Although the figure of the urban walker immediately evokes
associations with the flâneur of Baudelaire and Benjamin, this study is not
concerned with arguing whether the London walkers in the texts I have
selected can be conceived of as proto-flâneurs, like others have attempted
before me (cf. Brand 1991, Gregori 2005). Certainly, as close readings of
the texts show, the London walkers exhibit some similarities with the
nineteenth-century Parisian flâneur, especially when it comes to their

Most of the time, terms like walker, rambler, stroller, flâneur, wanderer, perambulator
or pedestrian are used as synonyms although the meaning and implications of each term
can vary slightly.
12 Introduction

immersed yet detached position within the city. However, I rather

understand the walking figure as a literary method of perspective-taking
and subjectivisation than as the blasé figure of modernity. As a result of
perspective-taking via the peripatetic figure, each text offers only one and
thus a restricted perspective on the city so that the juxtaposition of various
urban imaginaries results in a multi-perspectivation of London. The
number of different points of view of eighteenth-century London I
examine thereby illustrate the diversity and subjectivity of urban
experiences. Specifically, this means that in each analysis, emphasis lies
on how an individual constitutes his spatial surroundings and how that
individual’s experiences are mediated via literature. In that way, my close
readings demonstrate that in its literary representations, London is
constituted of many layers and can only be discovered fragmentarily, but
never in its entirety.
The emphasis of this study on eighteenth-century imaginaries of
London is indebted to the following: an exploration of
psychogeographical traces in London literature from the eighteenth
century has not been part of the research conducted in the field of tracking
the origins and literary traditions of psychogeography, this study shows
that Defoe’s Journal does not mark the starting point for
psychogeographical explorations of the city in literature. On the contrary,
the vast number of eighteenth-century London texts dealing with a new
urban awareness points towards a generally increasing interest in adapting
to a new urban life; in that way, the texts I have selected exhibit a
particularly high degree of subjective reflections, explorations and
experiences of urbanity and thereby prove to be particularly suitable for a
psychogeographical approach. Destroyed by plague (1665) and fire
(1666), London rose from the ashes to become the biggest city in
eighteenth-century Europe. In terms of commerce, number and diversity
Introduction 13

of population, or the simple sensation of motion and speed, London,

therefore, was suddenly not only the epicentre of Great Britain, but also of
Europe. The growing metropolis attracted visitors and new residents alike,
and for those already dwelling in London, the city was subject to
continuous new developments and changes, generating a new way of
urban life. Consequently, with London’s urban development in the
eighteenth century and a concomitant increasing interest in urbanity in
general, urban literature grew proportionately. As a consequence,
literature about London from that period is anything but scarce:
there was a substantial literature in eighteenth-century England, in
prose, verse, and alphabetical listings, concerned with interpreting,
familiarising, and classifying the city and mass living (Corfield 1990:
Indeed, genres of urban legibility have contributed to a self-consciousness
of London since the middle ages (cf. Brand 1991: 16). John Stow’s Survey
of London (1598), for instance, updated in 1720 by John Strype, is an
early example of urban literature that considered London as something
worthy of representation. Stow’s Survey, however, did not depict London
as the vibrant and dynamic city that it was, but aimed at presenting it in its
entirety, thereby reproducing a model of the city at one particular point in
time. As a historical document, it offers quasi-completeness, but as a
survey, it retains a static, encyclopaedic, temporally fixed intention that
succeeds in celebrating the city’s magnificence but that fails to depict its
energy and vitality. The crucial difference between surveys such as
Stow’s and a new urban literature emerging parallel to London’s
urbanisation is the shift from a static and map-like objectivity towards
For listings, see Fordham’s The Roadbooks and Itineraries of Great Britain, 1570-1859
(1924) or Corfield’s essay “Walking the City Streets. The Urban Odyssey in
Eighteenth-Century England” (1990).
14 Introduction

personal impressions of the city and the interest in how individuals cope
with the new urban reality. In the process, literary texts played a
significant role in shaping a new sense of reality that saw life in the city
not as fixed, but as perpetually new and discontinuous (cf. Brand 1991:
27). Naturally, this new way of urban life was popular material for art and
literature. The texts to be analysed in this book all deal with eighteenth-
century urban life and everything it entails: excitement, anxiety, social
hierarchies, class structures, consumerism, alienation, isolation,
spectacles, crowd behaviour, politeness, sociability, poverty, crime, dirt,
low life, fashion, speed, motion, transportation, and much more. It should
be added here that literature was not the only medium to facilitate a way
of dealing with and reflecting on London’s urbanisation; the visual arts,
too, as a popular medium of the eighteenth century, depicted London as a
vibrant metropolis. In this context, the London engravings by William
Hogarth stand out in particular, as they also depict the interests, self-
reflections and self-consciousness of a new urban society. Especially
Hogarth’s seminal works such as A Harlot’s Progress (1732), A Rake’s
Progress (1735) or Four Times of Day (1736) reflect London’s dynamic
and energetic cityscape, while also directly linking the spatial and the
social by cautioning against the decline of morality in an urban context.
As a result, danger, peril, moral decay and poverty are as much on their
agenda as urban innovation, admiration and fascination. In contrast to
Stow’s glorifying Survey, Hogarth’s prints and the texts I have selected
therefore extend their representation of London not only by way of
subjectivisation, but also by way of admiringly and critically reflecting on
urban life and urban society. As a result, each of these literary and visual
representations of everyday life in the city plays on eighteenth-century
urban reality in its very own way, creating a unique and complex mixture
of fictionality and factuality.
Introduction 15

Structure and Primary Sources

This book is divided into two parts: Part I conceptualises and historicises
psychogeography while Part II specifically pertains to readings of a
selected corpus of eighteenth-century literary psychogeography.
The first part of chapter 1 is devoted to locating this book within
the general discourse of space and literature (1.1). After summarising
recent research regarding the concept of space in literary and cultural
studies in a first step (1.1.1), the chapter tackles the complex interplay
between the real and the imaginary in a second step (1.1.2). By drawing
on a selection of concepts of literary theory most suitable for my purpose,
various approaches to space and literature are combined to complement
each other, including theories and concepts developed by Wolfgang Iser,
Hans Blumenberg and Edward Soja. In a third step, the figure of the urban
walker and his role in constructing visions of the city via the peripatetic
act is delineated (1.1.3). The second part of the chapter is then entirely
devoted to psychogeography and my understanding of the concept (1.2).
While it is necessary to initially sketch the origins of the term and its
affiliation with the Situationist International (1.2.1), the remainder of the
chapter focuses on the literary dimension of psychogeography. Particular
attention is paid to how literary psychogeography can be defined (1.2.2)
and to the question of how eighteenth-century precursors need to be
understood in relation to contemporary psychogeographical writings
(1.2.3). After thus placing psychogeography in a larger theoretical
framework of real-and-imagined spaces in chapter 1, chapter 2 exclusively
focuses on literary psychogeography from the eighteenth century and
explores the historical dimension of this study. For this purpose, the
historical and social circumstances that were the catalysts of London’s
prosperity in the eighteenth century are outlined briefly (2.1). The chapter
16 Introduction

then advances by historically connecting the walking figure to the

eighteenth century, substantiating the importance of walking as a means
of exploring the eighteenth-century city and tracing the significance of
walking during that period in general (2.2). Part I concludes by identifying
textual and topical themes of literary psychogeography (2.3), thereby
providing a useful guide for comprehending my approach to analysing the
primary sources selected for Part II.
In an attempt to cover a wide range of different works and to exemplify
my claims, a selection of primary texts has been made based upon their
relevance to the subject. The selection of primary sources rests on the
following principles: The texts I have chosen for analysis are exemplary
of eighteenth-century literary psychogeography because they contain
exceptionally strong psychogeographical ideas. The corpus does not claim
to be absolute; however, it is composed of texts that prove to be
particularly suitable for the approach developed in this study. For this
purpose, the topical and formal elements sketched towards the end of
chapter 2 are designed to guide the reader through readings of texts which
most symptomatically exhibit psychogeographical elements and ideas.
The selection of primary sources not only confirms the cross-generic
nature of literary psychogeography, but also exemplifies that a London
walker is a necessary prerequisite for psychogeographical explorations of
the city and their manifestations in literature, as he facilitates subjectivity
and single perspective-taking. As a consequence, each text creates a
unique vision of London as perceived through the eyes of one individual.
None of the texts, therefore, functions according to a predetermined
formula; instead each sets its own focus and has its own dynamics.
Resulting from this, a diversity of texts and genres provides access to
multiple visions of London and shows that eighteenth century London
was, indeed, a different place to different people (cf. Johnson).
Introduction 17

The chapters in Part II are arranged thematically. Moreover,

considering that in each chapter, different London imaginaries unfold and
together compose literary London as a palimpsest of innumerable visions,
each chapter in Part II closes with a conclusion that recapitulates the most
important psychogeography-related findings. Part II begins with the
analysis of two texts that elevate walking from an everyday practice to an
art (chapter 3). In John Gay’s Trivia, Or the Art of Walking the Streets of
London (1716), a London walker celebrates his pedestrian movement as
an art and claims that only via this artful mode of moving through the city
can he experience London in all its facets. In The Peripatetic (1791), a
text from the late eighteenth-century, John Thelwall also introduces a
walker who practises the art of walking in the city’s suburbs and whose
perambulations trigger deep meditations and contemplations. In chapter 4,
I investigate what Coverley has declared the “prototype” of
psychogeographical writings: Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year
(1722) reimagines the city historically and reflects on contemporary urban
developments against the backdrop of the plague year of 1665. Re-
imagining the city, London appears to consist of thick layers of history,
darkness and fear that this chapter seeks to uncover one by one. The
following chapter (chapter 5) is devoted to a style of writing which for a
long time had to endure disapproval. Writings that target London low life
are the focus here. As two of the most popular early Grub Street writings,
The London Spy (1698) by Ned Ward and Amusements Serious and
Comical (1700) by Tom Brown give an account of London’s seamy side
and set their London walkers in a vibrant and almost grotesque urban
milieu. Because exploring the city on foot depended on free movement
and access to London’s various places of entertainment – a privilege that
women were usually deprived of – the majority of London walkers in
18 Introduction

texts from the eighteenth century are male. There are, however, a few
accounts of female walking figures and thus, a gender perspective on
walking in the city is the focus of chapter 6. In this chapter, two female
urban figures are looked at more closely: the fallen woman and the
compliant woman. While the first part of chapter 6 focuses on the former
in Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders and the anonymous A Midnight’s
Ramble, the second part takes Frances Burney’s Evelina as an example of
urban experiences of the latter. All three texts show that walking, whether
as an independent and ill-reputed prostitute or as a lady of high society,
had entirely different implications for women than for men. Finally,
chapter 7 fast-forwards to a romantic vision of the city as constructed in
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London.” Experiencing London at a
time when its first urbanisation process was already completed and the
city was on the verge of the Industrial Revolution, Wordsworth provides
an urban imaginary that already shows strong symptoms of Romantic
subjectivity and that are investigated in this chapter. The decision to close
Part II with a literary representation of London from the turn-of-the-
century is substantiated by my final claim that literary psychogeography is
indeed exposed to continuity and change and that traces of
psychogeographical ideas in literary texts can therefore also be found
beyond the eighteenth century. Following this claim, the concluding pages
mark some potential avenues for further research.
Part I

Conceptualising and Historicising Psychogeography

1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature
What is the Citie, but the People? True, the People are the Citie.

William Shakespeare,

Cities have always held a fascination for human beings. Inhabitants or

visitors – cities need people to build them and to turn them into vibrant,
dynamic, pulsating and multifaceted showplaces of manifold lives and
experiences. Cities have become centres of everyday life, but why and
how do cities affect people and – vice versa – how do people affect cities?
This chapter explores the urban experiences of individuals physically
moving through the urban landscape. Walking through the city, these in-
dividuals are shaped by their urban surroundings while at the same time
projecting their subjective experiences back onto the city. Particularly rel-
evant for this study are urban experiences as represented in literary texts.
While most people have had their own personal experiences with cities,
the way in which urban experiences are processed in literary texts and
then conveyed to a readership is of concern in the first part of this chapter
(1.1). What readers get from literary experiences of cities are subjective
and often very personal impressions of city life. Therefore, readers always
need to ask to what extent urban space is constructed in literature, as de-
scriptions of urban space and urban experiences are never objective.
Hence, the question to what degree literary descriptions of cities are factu-
al and in what way they are embellished with fictionalised elements is a
central issue in the following sections. Chapter 1 is concerned with a more
general view of real and imagined dimensions of (literary) urban experi-
ences, providing the relevant framework for understanding the concept of
psychogeography in all its facets. For this purpose, after tracing the ori-

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017

C. Löffler, Walking in the City,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-17743-0_2
22 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

gins and recent developments of the concept of space in literary and cul-
tural studies (1.1.1), the chapter introduces relevant terminology for tack-
ling the interrelation of real and imagined spaces (1.1.2) and in a last step
explains why the activity of walking is central to experiencing urban
space (1.1.3). The second part of this chapter proceeds by taking a closer
look at psychogeography as one particular mode of experiencing the city
(1.2). Whilst psychogeography per se is a practice, the chapter, after a
brief introduction to psychogeography in general, steers the focus towards
manifestations of psychogeographical experiences in literary texts.

1.1. Real and Imagined Cities

The city must never be confused with the words that describe it.
And yet between the one and the other there is a connection.

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

1.1.1. Literary and Cultural Studies and the Concept of Space

“The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space” (Fou-
cault 1986: 22). What Michel Foucault prophesied almost 30 years ago
not only foreshadowed the increased amount of research carried out on
space in the last decades, but still holds true. Until now, space has been a
highly debated concept in the humanities, but a specific moment in time
when the fascination with space and spatiality began and initiated what
has come to be called the spatial turn16 cannot be pinpointed.17 A look at

The term spatial term was first used by Edward Soja in his study Postmodern Geogra-
phies (Soja 1989)
1.1. Real and Imagined Cities 23

works dealing with matters of space and spatiality, however, points to-
ward the late 1960s, when a considerable number of scholars across the
humanities turned their attention to the concept of space (cf. Bachelard
1969 [1958]; Lefebvre 1991 [1974]; Tuan 1977; Foucault 1986; Tuan
1977Deleuze and Guattari 1987; Harvey 1990; Jameson 1991).
Space is always there, ever present in our everyday lives, but as a
concept it became particularly relevant with the evolvement of the spatial
turn, which significantly changed the understanding of space in cultural
studies in general and literary studies in particular. From the 1960s on-
wards, space ceased to be treated as a mere backdrop or a “location where
historical events unfolded” (Tally 2013: 30). The previously prevailing
notion of space as a container, a stable setting to historical or temporal
events, implied space as something "[…] dead,[…] fixed,[…] undialecti-
cal, […] immobile" (Foucault 1980: 70). This notion of space has long
been considered not only outdated but also incorrect: the extensive re-
search conducted on space has shown that "our daily life, our psychic ex-
periences, [and] our cultural languages, are dominated by categories of
space rather than by categories of time" (Jameson 1991: 16).18 The spatial
turn, therefore, is “a turn towards the world itself, towards an understand-
ing of our lives as situated in a mobile array of social and spatial relations
[…]" (Tally 2013: 16–17). In this connection, it is particularly the idea of
space as a social product, a lived space, which shaped the new understand-
ing of space. Gaston Bachelard’s pioneering work The Poetics of Space

Tally, for example, points to ”roughly the 1960s” (Tally 2013: 159), while Harvey ob-
serves “a revived willingness […] to open the problem of spatiality to a general recon-
sideration” (Harvey 1990: 284) around 1970.
The concept of time had long been the focus of literary and cultural studies. Concerning
what Fischer-Lichte calls a “Shift of the Paradigm: From Time to Space,” she observes
that “across the many different theoretical approaches, recent years have seen a shift in
focus from a poetological reflection oriented towards categories of time to an approach
which tends to give precedence to categories of space” (Fischer-Lichte 1990: 15).
24 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

(1969)19 was one of the first studies that placed space within the frame-
works of literature and human perception, stressing the subject-oriented
interrelations of space and spatial representations (cf. Jahn and Buchholz
2005: 553). Bachelard, as one of the first, stressed the importance of the
individual in the physically empty, three-dimensional space and thereby
became an influential impulse for other ground-breaking models of space.
In The Production of Space20 (1974), for instance, the French Marxist the-
orist Henri Lefebvre proposes a triad which conceptualises three different
levels showing what (social) space is composed of, viz. espace perçu,
espace conçu and – drawing on Bachelard – espace vécu.21 These three
levels of spatiality influence each other and constitute (social) space, ren-
dering space both a product and productive (cf. Tally 2013: 120). The
most relevant contribution of both Bachelard’s understanding of space and
Lefebvre’s “famously difficult” (Ganim 2002: 372) triad for literary stud-
ies is the way in which they acknowledge the significance of symbolic –
or literary – representations of space. In this way, Bachelard’s and
Lefebvre’s works draw representations of space into the larger and inter-
disciplinary framework of spatial studies, giving literary representations
of space a crucial position within the overall study of space. Apart from
that, what potential does the spatial turn hold for literary studies? Accord-
ing to Bachmann-Medick one of the turn’s main purposes is to direct
scholars’ attention towards spatial practices and forms of spatial represen-
tation (cf. Bachmann-Medick 2006: 299). Especially after Bachelard’s
and Lefebvre’s pioneering works, the latter has gained attention in literary
studies, as it is understood that literary spaces are never just blueprints of

First published in French in 1958, under the title La Poétique de l’Espace.
Original title: La Production de l’Espace
For a more detailed reading of Lefebvre’s triad see Schmid 2010; 2008
1.1. Real and Imagined Cities 25

existing spaces, but always representations of these spaces.22 After all,

Iser reminds us that “fictional texts constitute their own objects and do not
copy something already in existence” (Iser 1978: 24). Accordingly, liter-
ary spaces neither imitate reality, nor can they be neutral, objective con-
tainers of events or are ever just ‘there’ (cf. Bauriedl 2009: 220). Instead,
they create worlds “in-between” which are always influenced by social
processes, social relations or perspective-taking; thus, they are constantly
re-defined (see also see Glasze and Mattissek 2009: 12, Massey 2005: 9).
The conceptualisation of space as highly dynamic and constantly under
construction is, therefore, not only essential for an adequate reading of
literary spaces, but also central for this study.
Urban spaces first received considerable interest at the beginning
of the twentieth century. Other, earlier works such as Plato’s Republic,
Augustine’s City of God, and Stow’s and Strype’s Survey of London cer-
tainly also touch upon the idea of the city, but "the first books that consid-
ered the city as a subject in itself were written by early sociologists like
Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Georg Simmel" (Lehan 1998: 6). Since
then, the study of cities – or urban studies – has taken many shapes and
has become a recognised field of research. 23 But why are cities so fasci-

In this context, Bachmann-Medick suggests the term topographical turn to describe the
effects of the spatial turn on literary studies. She argues that the valorisation of space in
the humanities is deeply connected with a focus towards representations of space in lit-
erary studies. For her, the term topographical turn seems more appropriate, as it implies
the central concerns of literary studies with matters of space, namely how space is de-
scribed and how it is written about (cf. Bachmann-Medick 2006: 310). Günzel, too,
proposes a reconsideration of the term spatial turn, proposing sub-terms like topograph-
ical or topological turn (see his essay “Spatial Turn - Topographical Turn - Topological
Turn. Über die Unterschiede zwischen Raumparadigmen,” Günzel 2008). To avoid
terminological confusion, I continue using the term spatial turn
Nowadays, even universities offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in “Urban Stud-
ies” (see, for example, Stanford University, University College London, or the Univer-
sity of Amsterdam).
26 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

nating? David Harvey, author of The Right to the City, seems to have an
explanation: The city
is a place of mystery, the site of the unexpected, full of agitations and
ferments, of multiple liberties, opportunities, and alienations; of pas-
sions and repressions; of cosmopolitanism and extreme parochialisms;
of violence, innovation, and reaction (Harvey 1989: 29).
Studying the literary city has also undergone a significant change:
Early literary studies proceeded from the notion that cities in literature are
blueprints of actual cities, described and imitated in the form of written
words. Needless to say, this notion, just as the notion of space as a neutral
container of history, has become obsolete. Andreas Mahler, a German
scholar whose anthology Stadt-Bilder (1999) has become a pioneering
study when it comes to literary cities, blames the “illusion of mimesis” 24
(Mahler 1999: 12) for this outdated notion. In Stadt-Bilder, Mahler takes a
new approach and proposes a distinction between Stadttext (text about a
city) and Textstadt (literary city). Stadttexte, as defined by Mahler, are
texts in which urban space is a dominant theme and in which the city does
not merely function as a setting or backdrop, but is an essential part of the
text. Textstädte, in turn, are not cities of the real world, but fictional cities
that create their own intra-textual reality. Of course, not every literary city
has a real-world equivalent 25, but many texts bear referentiality to real-
world cities, cities that also exist (or existed) outside the text. According
to Mahler, this referentiality can be established in various ways: Often, for
instance, the title of a literary text alone signals on which real-world city a
literary city is built, The London Spy, for instance, or The Art of Walking

The concept of mimesis, famously conceptualised by Ricoeur, is discussed further in
chapter 1.
If we think, for example, about Coketown in Dickens’ Hard Times; or, more extreme,
Gondor in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or King’s Landing in George R.R. Mar-
tin’s Game of Thrones.
1.1. Real and Imagined Cities 27

the Streets of London would be two such examples. In another way, the
text can display references to specific buildings (e.g. St. Paul’s Cathedral),
streets (e.g. Fleet Street, the Strand) or landscape specifics (e.g. the river
Thames) that also exist outside the text, so that the real-world source is
unequivocally recognisable. The grade of referentiality can vary to a great
degree, but the referentiality of the texts to be analysed in Part II is partic-
ularly high. Nonetheless, referring back to the opening quotation of this
chapter, “the city must never be confused with the words that describe it”
and nevertheless “between the one and the other there is a connection”
(Calvino 1997 [1972]: 61). Therefore, the question now remains of how
literary scholars can approach the relations and interrelations between fic-
tional cities and factual cities.

1.1.2. Urban Imaginaries and Cities Real and Imagined

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth, “Upon Westmin-

ster Bridge”
28 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

Wordsworth’s famous poem “Upon Westminster Bridge” creates a vision

of London as perceived on a fine, crisp morning. The poem combines the
sublime and the pastoral, transforming the usually energetic and polluted
city into calm, smokeless and tranquil beauty. 26 The lyrical I is enwrapped
in the awakening city, and yet experiences London at its least city-like
moment. Just like the title suggests that London is perceived from upon
Westminster Bridge, this literary representation of London captures only
one specific moment in time, space and in history, as experienced by one
single individual. The sight of the sleeping city triggers an emotional re-
sponse in the lyrical I (“I felt”, “calm”) that points towards an interaction
between the “real” city and the way it is perceived and represented by an
individual.27 Hence, it is important to emphasise that literary representa-
tions of space are always also interpretations of spaces and, therefore, the
interrelation between the material existence of a city and its literary repre-
sentation needs to be understood. As Mahler’s distinction between
Stadttext and Textstadt has shown, literary representations of cities have a
unique status when it comes to understanding and approaching fictional
The interrelation between descriptions of cities in literary texts
and “real”28 cities has been widely debated.29 The increased interest in the

Seeber (2014) offers an interesting reading of the poem, arguing in favour of the use of literary
criticism in literary studies and exploring the continuing success and popularity of “Composed
Upon Westminster Bridge.”
Although Wordsworth’s poem leaves the impression of having been composed while
actually standing “upon Westminster Bridge”, it was in fact written after Wordsworth
himself perceived London while crossing the bridge in a horse carriage.
In the context of the present study, “reality” or “the real,” in accordance with Woflgang
Iser, are understood as the extra-textual world, everything that lies outside the text and
provides the text’s multiple field of references. Thus, “reality” or “the real” “is the vari-
ety of discourses relevant to the author’s approach to the world through the text” (Iser
1996: 305).
1.1. Real and Imagined Cities 29

combination and relation between real and imagined spaces, however, has
brought about a number of different terminologies. 30 While all of the
terms essentially conceptualise the (inter-)relation between real and con-
structed spaces, an unconsidered application of the terms carries dangers,
as in different contexts or disciplines, the concepts imply different
things.31 Moreover, most concepts have not arisen from of the context of
literary studies per se32, therefore require a re-conceptualisation before an
application to literature becomes viable. Hence, this section takes a closer
look at concepts relevant for understanding where psychogeographical
texts are situated within the discourse of cities and their representations in
Literature transforms reality and real-world experiences into writ-
ten words. To better understand the interrelation between a real city and
its literary counterpart, Ricoeur’s concept of “threefold mimesis” is em-
ployed. In his work Time and Narrative33, Ricoeur introduces three mo-
ments of mimesis: mimesis1, mimesis2, and mimesis3 (cf. Ricœur 1984:
53).34 According to this distinction, the moment of mimesis1 describes a
prefiguration which precedes the process of writing. Before a real city can
be written about, a certain pre-knowledge of the real city to be represented
in a literary text, a “preunderstanding” (Ricœur 1984: 64) of the world as
See, for example, Alter (2005), Arnold (1999), Ball (2004), Eco (1991), Eilan et al.,
Gregory (1995), Henningsen et al. (1988), Klotz (1969), Lehan (1998), Lynch (1960),
Mahler (1999) or Weiss-Sussex/Bianchini (2006).
Examples would be Edward Said’s notion of “imaginative geographies” (Said 2003
[1978]), or Edward Soja’s concept of “real-and-imagined places” (Soja 2003).
Edward Said’s “Imaginative geographies,” for instance, originated from the context of
The majority of concepts dealing with real and imagined spaces come from the field of
For a more detailed reading of Ricoeur’s work, see Kaplan (2008).
As the title Time and Narrative already suggests, the focus of Ricoeur’s study is on
time rather than space. Nevertheless, his concept of threefold mimesis can be applied to
space and narrative as well.
30 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

it actually is, is required. The authors of the texts to be analysed in Part II

all were familiar with London and not uncommonly did their own experi-
ences and pre-knowledge of the city influence the way London is con-
ceived in their texts. Mimesis 1 is followed by the process of configuration
during which the pre-knowledge of the actual world is represented in the
text and brought into a relation with the literary world. Tally calls this
process a projection of the world, whereby “literature takes the data of life
and organizes it according to this or that plan” (Tally 2013: 42). Mimesis2,
therefore, is the act of writing, in the course of which the real world is nar-
ratively arranged and enriched with subjective interpretations, for instance
via the narrative strategy of perspective-taking. Finally, Mimesis 3 “marks
the intersection of the world of the text and the world of the […] reader”
(Ricœur 1984: 71) and affects the formation and understanding of the real
world.35 Indeed, mimesis has been a central concept of aesthetic and liter-
ary theory since Aristotle. The understanding of the concept has changed
over time, a development that Hans Blumenberg has chronicled in his
ground-breaking essay “The Concept of Reality and the Possibility of the
Novel” (1979 [1964]).36 Literature37, so Blumenberg argues, has an “au-
tonomous reality” (ibid. 46) in that it textually reconstructs its own world.
Literary texts thus produce their own reality and, as a consequence, have
the potential to not merely “represent objects of the world or even to imi-
tate the world, but to actualize a world” (ibid. 39, original emphasis). This
potential is what Blumenberg calls the “feasibility” of literature, as liter-
ary texts do not statically represent aspects readers are already familiar
with, but offer them new aspects of reality within their own intra-textual

It is possible, for example, to walk along the sites of novels by Charles Dickens, to visit
221B Baker Street or to find platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross.
Original title: “Wirklichkeitsbegriff und Möglichkeit des Romans” (1964).
Blumenberg relates his reflections to the novel in particular.
1.1. Real and Imagined Cities 31

reality. 38 In this context, Blumenberg also stresses the “single perspec-

tivistic topographical view” (ibid. 33), as the feasibility of literature also
comprises the representation of the extra-textual world through the eyes of
one single individual; in that way, Blumenberg’s understanding of fiction-
al reality proves helpful to understanding the blends of fact and fiction
inherent in the texts to be analysed in Part II.
With their unique blends of fact and fiction, the texts to be ana-
lysed in Part II are particularly intense when it comes to literary configu-
rations of the city in general and perspective-taking in particular. There-
fore, it is worth taking a closer look at this relationship: as a configuration;
the moment of mimesis 2 creates one specific literary representation of
space. In accordance with a definition by Westphal, in this study represen-
tations of space are thus understood as
the translation of a source into a derivative — the source is sometimes
the ‘real’ (the world), and the derivative is ‘fictional’ (the mental im-
age, the simulacrum). […] [The] representation is conveyed by the
word, the image, sound, and so on (Westphal 2011: 75).
Once a source is translated into a representation of that source, "[t]he rep-
resented world, however realistic and truthful, can never be […] identical
with the real word it represents" (Bakhtin 1981: 256). In that context,
Wolfgang Iser’s notion of mimesis and representation proves useful, as
for him, fictional representations of the “real” world are infinite:
The text game proceeds as a transformation of its referential worlds,
which gives rise to something that cannot be deduced from these
worlds. It follows that none of these worlds can be the object of repre-

Regarding this point, Blumenberg draws attention to the concept of an “open” reality as
opposed to a “guaranteed” reality: An open reality allows for the aesthetic quality of the
novitas, an element of surprise and unfamiliarity offered to the reader, whereas a “guar-
anteed” reality does not allow for anything unfamiliar or new to become “real” in a text.
He stresses the legitimisation of an open reality and objects to the notion that an open
reality implies that literature becomes a lie (cf. Blumenberg 18f.).
32 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

sentation, that the text is in no way confined to being the representa-

tion of something given (Iser 1996: 281).
Literature, according to Iser, is characterised by an infiniteness of which a
single text is just one of many other possible representations. Literary rep-
resentations hence appear in kaleidoscopic manifestations of reality (cf.
Iser 1998: 670) and, as a consequence, each literary city (Textstadt) is not
identical with its real-life referent city but creates its own autonomous
reality. This process is what Iser has described as Emergenz (emergence):
literary representations of cities are understood as something new that
emerges from the interrelation between reality and fictional representa-
tions of the latter. A literary text thus takes only one singular position
among many possible others, and, therefore, a real world source can be
translated into a variety of fictional representations, each one potentially
offering a different viewpoint and different ways of world-making (cf.
Nünning 2009). 39 Hence, "the world is divided— at least in the universe
of fiction— into a plurality of possible worlds in terms of representation"
(Westphal 2011: 117). This also means that different fictional worlds can
coexist in the same space and time, and that literary texts can provide dif-
ferent visions or versions of reality. In the texts of this study in particular,
multiple perspectives lead to a multi-focalisation of the city and allow for
a reading of eighteenth-century London from a broad range of perspec-
tives. But how real or how imagined are these perspectives?
Configurations of reality, or in Ricoeur’s words mimesis2, create
worlds “in-between,” worlds in which the real and the imaginary have
become indistinct:

Also see the concept of possible worlds in literary studies, which examines possible
worlds and literary universes created by fiction. See, for example, Nelson Goodman’s
Ways of Worldmaking (1990 [1978]), Marie-Laure Ryan’s Possible Worlds (1991) or
Ruth Ronen’s Possible Worlds in Literary Theory (1994).
1.1. Real and Imagined Cities 33

the gap between the world and the text has been significantly reduced,
while taking a somewhat baffling form. The distinction between real
space and represented […] space has blurred (Westphal 2011: 85).
As soon as a city finds its way into literature and is represented in a text, it
becomes a world “in-between.” To understand this world “in-between”, a
generally accepted binary opposition of the real and the fictional has to be
overcome. Wolfgang Iser, in his pioneering The Fictive and the Imagi-
nary40 (1996), therefore introduces a triad of the real, the fictional41 and
the imaginary that particularly tries to grasp the fictional qualities of a
literary text, the worlds “in-between” created by literature. The “real,” in
Iser’s triad, is the extra-textual world, while the “imaginary” is a process
that “tends to manifest itself in a somewhat diffuse manner” (Iser 1996: 3)
and that involves the power of the imagination, a power which is held by
both author and reader. The sheer act of writing/reading guides and mani-
fests the shapeless imaginary projections of writer/reader in the fictional
world (cf. de Bruyn 2012: 160). The “fictional” then describes the inten-
tional and guided act of fictionalising42 the real so that ultimately in a
merging process, “real” and “imaginary” dimensions combine into a fic-
tional construct:
the text’s apparent reproduction of items within the fictional text
brings to light purposes, attitudes, and experiences that are decidedly
not part of the reality reproduced. Hence they appear in the text as
products of a fictionalizing act (ibid).

Original title: Das Fiktive und das Imaginäre.
In the English translation of Iser’s triad, the German “das Fiktive” is translated as “the
fictive.” To ensure terminological clarity, however, I will use the term “fictional” to de-
scribe this dimension of Iser’s triad.
Actually, the English translation “fictionalising” from the German “fingieren” (“to
feign,” “to fake”) does not grasp the understanding of the term entirely (cf. Berensmey-
er 2000: 202).
34 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

The fictional world created in a literary text is thus generated by represen-

tations of the real that are merged with the imaginary. The fictionalising
act hence crosses boundaries of reality while at the same time making the
imaginary appear real (ibid., also see Berensmeyer 2000: 202f.). Iser’s
triad proves to be an important contribution to unravel the complex di-
mensions of the fictional. While I argue along similar lines, namely that
the fictional worlds created by literature are composed of real and imagi-
nary dimensions, I use the term “urban imaginary” to describe the “worlds
in-between” created by literary representations of eighteenth-century
London.43 The term “urban imaginary” is inspired by Edward Soja, one of
the key thinkers on space and place, who, through a “Lefebvrian filter”
(Latham 2004: 271), argues for a re-positioning of space at the centre of
social theory. A social theorist and urban geographer, Soja’s attempt to
combine these two disciplines manifests itself in his two influential works
Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social
Theory (1989) and Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-
and-Imagined-Places (1996). Drawing on and describing the condition of
postmodern cities, Soja argues for a new form of spatialised thinking
based on “a triple dialectic of space, time, and social being” (Soja 1989:
12). Soja’s approach is clearly situated in postmodernism, but his concepts
of Thirdspace and real-and-imagined-spaces – re-conceptualised – pro-
vide a relevant basis for the way I understand London and its literary rep-
resentations. Drawing on Lefebvre’s triad and possibly also Iser’s, Soja
introduces and discusses the concept of “Thirdspace,” a concept which
similarly aims at expanding a restrictive dualism. “Thirdspace” tries to
deconstruct polarisations such as subjective vs. objective, real vs. fictional
or material vs. mental (cf. Soja 2009: 49). For Soja, there is no either/or
I thereby differ from Iser’s terminology by using the term “urban imaginary” where Iser
uses “Das Fiktive.”
1.1. Real and Imagined Cities 35

choice when it comes to the question of whether space is real or imagined.

Instead, he sees “the possibility of a both/and also logic” (Soja 2009: 50)
which dissolves the restrictions of binary logic. In “Thirdspace,” Soja ar-
everything comes together […]: subjectivity and objectivity, the ab-
stract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and
the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and
agency, mind and body, consciousness and unconsciousness, the dis-
ciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history
(Soja 1996: 56–57, original emphasis).
Understood from the perspective of literary studies, “thirdspace,” like
mimesis2, creates spaces “in-between,” spaces where reality and its sub-
jective literary representation come together and form a new space (also
see Tally 2013: 160; Bachmann-Medick 2006: 298). As a consequence of
“Thirdspace” and according to Iser’s triadic model, the antithesis between
reality and fiction has to be replaced because “what we call ‘reality’ is in
fact saturated with fiction(s), necessary or other; and what we like to refer
to as ‘fiction’ often contains more reality than we care to admit” (Berens-
meyer 2000: 202). Ensuing from this understanding of literary representa-
tions, the texts to be analysed further on escape the either/or question. Are
they real? Are they imagined? The answer is they are both. They all create
an “urban imaginary,” new “real-and-imagined” spaces, where factual
descriptions of reality are enriched with subjective interpretations of the
latter, creating spaces in-between.
In summary, urban imaginaries, configured in the way of mime-
sis2, provide different points of views of reality and allow different per-
spectives to emerge. The texts of this study, with their own characteristic
way of creating real-and-imagined spaces, are prime examples of urban
imaginaries and offer particularly multifaceted visions of urban space. In
that way, “[t]he city […] is made up of many cities and by many represen-
36 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

tational strategies” (Rotella 1998: 14). Or, to say it in Dickens’ words:

“What inexhaustible food for speculation do the streets of London af-
ford!” (Dickens 1973 [1836]).

1.1.3. Experiencing the Urban Imaginary at Street-Level

Walking, the physical “action of moving or travelling at a regular and fair-

ly slow pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn so that one of
the feet is always on the ground” (OED Online 2014), is such an elemen-
tary activity of everyday life that there is hardly much thought wasted on
it. Walking, however, although we might not be aware of it all the time, is
one of the fundamental modes of relating to the environment, of making
sense of the world around us and of perceiving ourselves in relation to our
surroundings (also see O'Rourke 2013: 43f.). Thus, walking is an every-
day practice, and is at its very essence understood as a corporeal move-
ment of individuals in space and time. But what exactly are the qualities
of walking and pedestrian mobility? Why is walking so important for ex-
periencing urban space and for creating urban imaginaries? And why does
walking in the city – as opposed to moving through it by other means of
transportation – play such an important role?
To provide a general history of walking would extend the limits
of this study44, so suffice it to say that walking is as old as mankind and
has undergone many developments. Pilgrimage is one of the first tradi-
tions of purposeful walking, calling to mind early Christian pilgrimages,
medieval pilgrims’ journeys to sacred sites like Canterbury, Rome or Pad-
ua, or popular contemporary religious journeys along the Way of St.

For a detailed history of walking, see Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust (2002) or Andreas
Mayer’s Wissenschaft vom Gehen. Die Erforschung der Bewegung im 19. Jahrhundert
1.1. Real and Imagined Cities 37

James, for instance. Walking generally is often also associated with the
countryside, with going back to nature and experiencing rural landscapes
that radiate calmness and solitude. Particularly rural walking is often as-
sociated with the landscape poets of the romantic period. 45 Wordsworth,
Rousseau and John Clare, to name but a few, are figures at once connect-
ed with contemplations about nature and passing through rural landscapes
on foot. Paradoxically, this development is also related to the availability
of new alternative ways of moving about, such as stage or hackney coach-
es, as the stagecoach network significantly expanded towards the end of
the eighteenth century. 46 Under these developments, walking was no long-
er the only choice for movement, but became an option. Suddenly, it was
often performed consciously and deliberately to enable direct and imme-
diate experiences of one’s environment on the one hand, but also to coun-
teract new technologies that significantly ignited the revolution of
transport. Rousseau, in his Confessions, thus muses:
Never did I think so much, exist so vividly, and experience so much,
never have I been so much myself – if I may use that expression – as
in the journeys I have taken alone and on foot […] I can only meditate
when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only
works with my legs (Rousseau 1953 [1782]: 158; 382).
Here, walking is deeply connected with thought and experience, an em-
bodied experience carried out from a particular point of view (cf.
O'Rourke 2013: xvii). Walking is Rousseau’s “chosen mode of being, be-
cause within a walk he is able to live in thought and reverie, to be self-
sufficient, and thus to survive the world” (Solnit 2002 [2001]: 21). Walk-
ing, for Rousseau, has its very own particular and personal relevance, and
calling to mind the single position-taking connected with the urban imagi-

See Seeber (2000).
Also see Wallace 1994: 10f.; 21f.; Seeber 2000: 7f.
38 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

nary, walking serves to intensify the subjective, point-of-view experiences

of an individual’s environment.
Although landscape and walking are an inseparable pair47, urban
space and walking also has its history. In fact, “the modern city had been
associated, from the beginning, with a man walking, as if alone, in its
streets” (Williams 1973: 233), as Williams puts it in his The Country and
the City.48 The city, therefore, evokes ideas of a figure walking through
the streets, being in the thick of things while at the same time exhibiting a
certain degree of detachment.49 Iain Sinclair, too, argues that moving
through the city on foot seems to ensure the most direct and individual
experiences you could ask for:
[w]alking is the best way to explore and exploit the city; the changes,
shifts, breaks in the cloud helmet, movement of light on water. Drift-
ing purposefully is the recommended mode, trampling asphalted earth
in alert reverie, allowing the fiction of an underlying pattern to assert
itself (Sinclair 2003 [1997]: 4).
Sinclair, who is regarded as one of Britain’s most popular contemporary
writers of psychogeography, strongly encourages everyone to experience
the city by walking through it. Knowing that already in the eighteenth
century walking was often a conscious decision against new modes of
transportation, advocating walking becomes all the more powerful in the
twenty-first century with its innumerable transport options. Being situated
at street-level, therefore, seems to be a necessary requirement for having
immediate experiences of urban space. In support of this, Michel de Cer-
teau argued for the distinction between walker and voyeur in his essay

See also Henry Thoreau’s famous essay “Walking” (1862) about nature and walking.
In “The Figure in the City,” a chapter from The Country and the City, Williams refers to
the works of Blake, Wordsworth, Dickens and Gaskell as marking the beginning of (lit-
erary) city walkers.
Chapter 2.2 examines the particular position of the London walker in great detail.
1.1. Real and Imagined Cities 39

“Walking in the City,” published in his collection The Practice of Every-

day Life.50 According to de Certeau, walking in the city in the form of pe-
destrian mobility is the activity which “makes up the city” (Certeau 1984:
97), while the voyeur takes up a detached, uninvolved position, observing
the city from a physically elevated position or from a distance. The voyeur
lifted out of the city's grasp. [His] body is no longer clasped by the
streets [...] When [he] goes up there, he leaves behind the mass that
carries off and mixes up in itself any identity of authors or spectators.
[...] His elevation transfigures him into a voyeur. It puts him at a dis-
tance (Certeau 1984: 92).
From the bird’s-eye view of the voyeur, the city appears static. The voyeur
gets a synoptic view of everything that lies beneath him and can only see
the city in its large anonymous totality. Because the desire to see the en-
tirety of the city from above preceded the means of realising this desire
(cf. Certeau 1984: 92), art from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
aimed at uplifting the spectator of paintings or reader of poems to a supe-
rior, god-like position. Topographical poetry from the seventeenth centu-
ry, too, creates broad images of land- or cityscapes from an elevated posi-
tion and in that way produces a distance between individual and spatial
surroundings. In John Denham’s “Cooper’s Hill” 51 (1642), for instance,
the protagonist describes his surrounding landscape from a viewpoint
reminiscent of de Certeau’s voyeur. Standing on top of a hill, the protago-
nist of “Cooper’s Hill” is not part of the landscape, but views his spatial
surroundings, with London in the far distance, from an elevated position,
creating a static viewpoint and a distance between landscape and reader.
In contrast, Certeau’s walkers at street-level

Original title: L' Invention du Quotidien
(Denham 2009 [1780] )
40 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

live ‘down below’[...] They walk – an elementary form of this experi-

ence of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies fol-
low the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write (Certeau 1984:
“Down below” is the realm of lived space as conceptualised by Bachelard
and Lefebvre, while the view from above is often the way space is per-
ceived by those with power, e.g. urban planners or architects. The walker
experiences the city first-hand and can engage with his urban surround-
ings individually, creating a highly dynamic interaction between him and
his spatial surroundings: While walking through the city, taking turns,
choosing paths or circumventing obstacles – in short: making selections –
pedestrians interact with the city and create individual urban texts. There-
upon, de Certeau compares walking to speech acts: “The act of walking is
to the urban system what the speech act is to language” (Certeau 1984:
97). For de Certeau, the “enunciative function” of walking
is a process of appropriation of the topographical system […], a spa-
tial acting-out of the place […], and it implies relations among differ-
entiated positions (Certeau 1984: 97–98).
Just like the speech acts of language, therefore, pedestrian speech acts, as
de Certeau calls them, weave the city together in subjective ways, each of
them one possibility out of many others.52 In that way, “each walk moves
through space like a thread through fabric, sewing it together into a con-
tinuous experience” (Solnit 2002 [2001]: xv). Ultimately, the city com-
presses “all the variety of human life into a jumble of possibilities” (ibid.
182) and, therefore, the city exists of many layers stacked on top of each
other. Pedestrian speech acts thus “are of an unlimited diversity” (Certeau
1984: 99), with each individual walker creating his own story – and his
own urban imaginary. Accordingly, in contrast to the voyeur, who insists

Note the connection to Iser’s triad here.
1.1. Real and Imagined Cities 41

on his proprietorial and distant position, the walker “individuates and

makes ambiguous the ‘legible’ order given to cities by planners” (During
1999: 126). The individualisation of the city evoked by walking is the
crux of the matter when it comes to understanding psychogeography. It
has to be noted, however, that the walking activity of individuals through
the city also involves certain restrictions, as the walkers on street-level can
only see urban space fragmentarily. The walker
experiences the city as a labyrinth, although one with which he may
be familiar. He cannot see the whole of a labyrinth at once, except
from above, when it becomes a map. Therefore his impressions of it at
street level at any given moment will be fragmentary and lim-
ited: rooms, buildings, streets (Pike 1981: 9).
Nonetheless, this limitation and restriction of experiences is not at all dis-
advantageous, least of all in the texts to be analysed. Although architec-
ture limits where the walkers can go – just like language limits what can
be said – the restrictions give structure to the walkers’ experiences. As I
show in Part II, certain areas of the topographical reality of a city stir up
very personal experiences, thereby individualising the city. In that way,
[a]lthough the city as labyrinth is determined in the static mode (the
streets and buildings are fixed and have fixed identities), it is also
highly susceptible to chance [...]. This combination makes the street-
level city the […] vehicle for the journey of adventure (ibid. 35).
All things considered, the urban imaginaries of this study are funda-
mentally connected with walking. By moving through the city on foot, the
primary texts, by way of perspective-taking, construct a diversity of urban
imaginaries in their very own individual way. Hence, walkers do not only
leave fleeting traces in the web of urban space, but – most interesting for
literary scholars – they also leave literary traces that want to be discovered
and unfolded (cf. Weigel 2002: 154). The city is, after all, nothing but a
repository of real and imagined possibilities.
42 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing

At every instant, there is more than

the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a
setting or a view waiting to be explored.
Nothing is experienced by itself, but always
in relation to its surroundings, the sequences
of events leading up to it, the memory of past

Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City

Cities want to be explored at every instant and psychogeography is one

way of doing so. In recent years, psychogeography has become somewhat
of an “in-” term a term abundantly used and to be found everywhere,
causing it to have turned into “the Dolce & Gabbana of the pedestrian un-
derground” (cited in Elias 2010: 826). Beneath its commercial surface,
however, psychogeography has also raised the curiosity of scholars who
try to use it as a tool to explore the nexus between the human psyche and
the geographical environment. As the external physical world does not
exist without influence by the mind, by memories, or by sensory percep-
tion (also see Ross 2013), an understanding of psychogeography can help
to access and decode (literary) experiences of the city. To counteract the
generally accepted notion that psychogeography cannot be concisely de-
fined, I would like to cite what I regard a rather good definition of psy-
chogeography. The definition is provided by the Bureau of Unknown Des-
tinations, an online-based art project which provides opportunities (such
as the Psychogeographic Destination Kits) for people to leave their pre-
dictable paths and set forth on new, psychogeographical voyages through
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 43

habitual spaces, directing them towards a new awareness of the urban

Psychogeography is the art of moving through space according to feel-
ings and effects rather than ordinary purposes. Like all the experi-
mental arts, it seeks to break routine ways of being, hoping for the
freshness of new experience. Psychogeography has a history that be-
gins in Paris with the poet Baudelaire’s favorite figure, the “flaneur”
or drifter – one who spends the day walking through the city with no
other purpose than to experience its ambiances. Later, Guy Debord
and his companions in the Lettrist and Situationist movements briefly
held the dream that “the new type of beauty can only be a beauty of
situations.” Only an art of creating “situations,” they thought, had the
potential to change how people lived and felt. The situations they
loved involved cities, going from one place to another, chance en-
counters (Bureau of Unknown Destinations 2012).
The definition contains important key words that help to grasp psychoge-
ography, such as feelings, effects, routine, new experience or ambiances.
These key words are not only necessary to understand what psychogeog-
raphy is, but also give people unfamiliar with psychogeography a first
idea of what it entails. In the following subchapters, I put the key words
into context by first sketching the origins of psychogeography before in-
vestigating the literary dimension of psychogeography, thereby also chal-
lenging the notion that psychogeography started in Paris.

1.2.1. Psychogeography and the Situationist International

The first recorded use of the term “psychogeography” dates back to 1905.
J. Walter Fewkes uses the term in the context of his research about “The
Influence of the Sun on the People of the Hopi Pueblos” (see Pepper
1905: 445), naming it “one of the most interesting phases of anthro-
geography or psychogeography in the southwest.” The coupling of the
44 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

term with “anthro-geography” positions psychogeography within the dis-

cipline of the humanities, but other than that, the term is used without re-
flection or further explanation: what Fewkes explicitly means by “psy-
chogeography” remains unresolved. After that, the term appears time and
again, but in all cases a further explanation or even definition remains ab-
sent.54 It is only with the Parisian Situationist International in the 1950s
that the term is shaped and gains an unexpected importance.
The Situationist International (“SI” for short), a group of Europe-
an intellectuals and scholars interested in arts and politics 55, were active
between 1957 and 1972 in Paris. The group was founded rather loosely,
“in a state of semi-drunkenness” (Home 1988: 30), by delegates of various
small, artistic avant-garde groups56 who joined together to form the SI.
Throughout the time of its existence, the group remained considerably
small, partly attributed to the difficult and elitist attitude of Guy Debord
who regarded himself as leader of the group and to date continues to be
the figure most closely associated with the SI. By the 1950s, interest in
everyday life and culture of the masses was growing, and the main reason
for the formation of the SI was a commonly felt aversion towards con-
sumerism and capitalism:

According to the OED, J.L. Moreno used “psychogeography” in his book Who Shall
Survive? (1934: 251). Kerstetter and Sargent also use the term in their essay “Re-
Assignment Therapy in the Classroom: As a Preventive Measure in Juvenile Delin-
quency” (1940: 299).
Clark and Nicholson-Smith even call the SI an “art-political sect” (Clark and Nicholson-
Smith 1997: 19)
The two key groups were the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, whose
most famous associate was Asger Jorn, and the Lettrist International, which was found-
ed by Guy Debord. For more on the different movements that led to the foundation of
the SI, see Stewart Home’s The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to
ClassWar (1991).
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 45

[T]he SI sought a utopian, revitalized urban life that could both elude
the aesthetic tyranny of spectacularized global capitalism and provide
a vital, liberatory mode of urban Being (Elias 2010: 821).
For the SI, “spectacles,” created by the superabundance of consumerist
images, products and activities, were barriers that prevented people from
discovering “the authentic life of the city teeming underneath” (Sadler
1998: 15). The influences and restrictions of consumerism, the SI criti-
cised, made people victims who “see very little of [their] own world, for
[they] are habituated to it and willing to concentrate only on extraordinary
‘spectacles’” (Porteous 1990: 4). Therefore, the SI developed a series of
approaches and activities in order to rebuild the city “upon new principles
that replace our mundane and sterile experiences with a magical aware-
ness of the wonders that surround us” (Coverley 2010: 84). Fundamental
to these activities is the creation of what the SI called ambiances, or –
eponymously – situations. Debord explained that the SI’s “central idea is
the construction of situations, that is to say, the concrete construction of
momentary ambiances of life and their transformation into a superior pas-
sional quality” (Debord 2006 [1957]: 70). For the purpose of consciously
experiencing the city, the SI hence went on a quest for particular ambi-
ances or atmospheres, ensembles of impressions that can determine the
quality of a moment (cf. Debord 2006: 75). These impressions were, natu-
rally, not only left to chance, influenced by particular areas of a city or
various other circumstances, but also dependent on the individual experi-
encing these ambiances. The city, therefore, if experienced consciously
and beyond the clutches of consumerism, offers a whole spectrum of di-
verse feelings and atmospheres just waiting to be encountered (cf.
Chtcheglov 2006 [1953]: 21).
To experience ambiances in the city, members of the SI engaged in
psychogeography, which was commonly regarded as an urban practice.
46 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

The term itself, it seems, was not chosen carefully, but instead attributed
quite casually, as Debord remarks:
The word psychogeography, suggested by an illiterate Kabyle as a
general term for the phenomena a few of us were investigating […], is
not too inappropriate (Debord 2006 [1955]: 24).
Yet the first “official” and most-cited attempt at a definition of psychoge-
ography comes from Guy Debord himself:
Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and
specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously
organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals. The
charmingly vague adjective psychogeographical can be applied to the
findings arrived at by this type of investigation, to their influence on
human feelings, and more generally to any situation or conduct that
seems to reflect the same spirit of discovery (Debord 2006 [1955]:
Debord admits to the vagueness of the term psychogeography, but the
vagueness somehow matches the loosely organised nature of the group
itself, as well as their often unspecified activities. In spite of this, it is
clear that the individual and his experiences of the city are at the centre of
psychogeography. In that way, psychogeography combines the objective –
the laws of the geographical environment – with the subjective – the emo-
tions and behaviour of individuals, a combination that immediately brings
to mind the notion of the urban imaginary or worlds in-between. In The
Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord claims that “[t]he secrets of the city
are, at a certain level, decipherable. But the personal meaning they have
for us is incommunicable" (Debord 1992: 28). The purpose of psychoge-
ography therefore is to take in the objective, material environment of the
city and uncover from it subjective, hidden meanings of the city that vary
from individual to individual. In that way, the SI realised that the individ-
ual cannot be detached from the city and that, vice versa, the city cannot
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 47

be understood when it is looked at without considering the individual. In

other words: people are as much shaped by the city as the city is shaped
by its people, or to re-quote Shakespeare: “What is the Citie, but the Peo-
ple? True, the People are the Citie.” And so, psychogeography signifies
the point at which psychology and geography collide (cf. Coverley 2010:
89). The intersection of psychology and geography in the form of psycho-
geography thus proceeds from the “postulate that different environments
or ambiences work directly on human feelings and are more or less con-
ducive to […] states of being or behavior” (Sheringham 2006: 162). Ac-
cordingly, for the SI, the assumption that certain parts of the city evoke a
fixed set of ambiances is profoundly wrong. Instead, they attempted to
make people aware of the potential of the city as being able to evoke a
variety of feelings in individuals and therefore to create kaleidoscopic
manifestations of reality (compare Iser), which has become the essence of
People are quite aware that some neighborhoods are sad and others
pleasant. But they generally simply assume that elegant streets cause a
feeling of satisfaction and that poor streets are depressing […] In fact,
the variety of possible combinations of ambiances, analogous to the
blending of pure chemicals in an infinite number of mixtures, gives
rise to feelings as differentiated and complex as any other form of
spectacle can evoke (Debord 2006 [1955]: 27).
As a means to practise psychogeography, the SI advertised a par-
ticular mode of walking, the dérive. In that way, walking became an es-
sential prerequisite for the SI, who, as walkers in de Certeau’s sense,
aimed at experiencing their own urban imaginaries at street level. 57 The

For the Situationists, the conscious decision for walking also had a political dimension:
Cars, as one big side effect of consumerism, replaced bipedal movement more and
more. Thus, walking through the city also became an act of subversion against the con-
sequences of consumerism. For more on the “dictatorship of the automobile” (Debord
1992: 174), see Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle.
48 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

dérive ensured immediate, psychogeographical experiences of the city,

mainly because of its undetermined and exceedingly dynamic nature:
One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive [literally: drifting ],
a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives in-
volve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeo-
graphical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions
of journey or stroll. In a dérive one or more persons during a certain
period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all
their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves
be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find
there (Debord 2006 [1958]: 120).
In contrast to journeys or strolls, which usually have a predetermined
route or destination, the dérive guides the walker according to his experi-
ences related to or feelings invoked by his urban surroundings. Despite the
fact that the dérive lacks a clear destination, it is not without purpose. On
the contrary, the dérive is much more intense than a conventional journey,
as any feelings or atmospheres experienced along the way have priority.
Accordingly, “the dériveur is conducting a psychogeographical investiga-
tion and is expected to return home having noted the ways in which the
areas traversed resonate with particular moods and ambiences [sic.]”
(Coverley 2010: 96). Hence each dérive becomes a unique rereading of
the city, a rereading that weaves the city together in subjective ways.
What the Situationists called dérive, therefore, resonates with de Certeau
pedestrian speech acts. As a result, the dérive literally and figuratively
paves the way for psychogeographical explorations of urban space, which
in turn put the walkers in a “reverie, a state of mind” (Sadler 1998: 76)
and emotionally excite both the walkers’ body and mind.
Although the SI’s approaches were quite promising and their ini-
tial aim to “play upon topophobia and create a topophilia” (Anon. 1960:
7) was honourable, the group did not prove to be successful on a long-
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 49

term basis.58 The SI failed for various reasons: First and foremost, the
group was accused of being “too busy talking, fighting, writing manifestos
and being expelled” (Antony and Joel 2005: 22) and so, actual results of
all the SI’s experiments and activities remained more or less absent. The
high degree of theorisation of the dérive, psychogeography or other Situa-
tionist concepts stood in their own way and became an obstacle for the
SI’s actual aim: to plead for a conscious confrontation with the city and to
have people experience the “particularly intense urban atmosphere” (Sad-
ler 1998: 69) that became critically endangered by consumerism and capi-
talism. Especially Debord’s theoretical psychogeographical methodology
remained at odds with the essentially personal nature of the relationship
between the individual and the city (cf. Coverley 2010: 101) and failed in
so far that it, too, discouraged the purely personal, emotional and intimate
encounter of the city and the individual. A good example to illustrate the
paradox of the SI’s psychogeographical practices is Debord’s "Guide Psy-
chogéographique de Paris", published as The Naked City (1957).59 The
guide is a map composed of nineteen cut-out fragments of a map of Paris,
without the logical relation between one another as one would expect
from a conventional map. The psychogeographical map instead tries to
demonstrate unities of different ambiances experienced on a dérive
through Paris. The cut-out fragments are woven together by arrows sym-
bolising the direction of the dérive. People using the map can follow the
arrows in their preferred way and can thereby choose their own direction.
In that way, Debord encouraged people to witness

While the Situationist International was mainly forgotten after their dissolution in 1972,
the group attracted increased interest once more after Debord’s suicide in 1994. For
more detailed information on the legacy and reception of the Situationist International,
see McDonough 1997, Rasmussen 2004, or Kaufmann 2006.
For a more detailed discussion of Debord’s psychogeographical map see McDonough
2002: 241–65.
50 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

[t]he sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few

meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic at-
mospheres; the path of least resistance which is automatically fol-
lowed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical
contour of the ground); the appealing or repelling character of certain
places (Debord 2006 [1955]: 27).
The problem here is the map’s element of instruction. Although The Na-
ked City is an example of what Debord called “renovated cartography”
(Debord 2006 [1955]: 28), the map, like any map, becomes a manual by
which to navigate the city. And while psychogeography essentially pro-
moted individual, hardly imitable experiences of urban space, The Naked
City offered a way of experiencing the city which was partly prescribed
already, thereby creating a paradox between theory and practical imple-
mentation. 60 But while the SI’s tools for psychogeography might have
been a failure, the idea of evoking subjective, partly imaginary percep-
tions of the city while drifting through it bears high potential. After the
fall of the group, this potential was re-recognised by a number of mostly
male British authors who re-directed their attention towards psychogeog-
raphy and via the medium of literature found a way to manifest individual
psychogeographical explorations of urban space.

1.2.2. Literary Psychogeography, Or What is Psychogeographical Writing?

The SI encouraged psychogeography as a spatial practice, but as of today,

psychogeography is not merely regarded as a practice any more, but has
expanded its realm to all kinds of different media. Although psychogeog-
raphy has gained new popularity among artists, urban planners, filmmak-
For a more detailed insight into the rise and fall of the SI see Sussman’s On the Passage
of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: The Situationist Internation-
al (1990).
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 51

ers or those generally interested in the city, it seems that “the current re-
vival of psychogeography manifest[s] itself as a literary trend with Lon-
don at its centre” (Colombino 2013: 18, also see Coverley 2010: 111). 61
And although psychogeography is criticised for remaining a “slightly
stuffy term” (Hart 2004: 1), it has gained mainstream acceptance as a lit-
erary phenomenon.
I use the term literary psychogeography, coined by van Tijen in
1991, to describe the manifestation of psychogeography in literature.
While it is clear by now that “[p]sychogeography is the art that tries to
record and understand the influence of the outer environment on the hu-
man mind and vice versa” (van Tijen 1991),
[l]iterary psychogeography is the expression of this phenomena [sic]
in literature, whereby literature is taken in its widest possible sense:
any writing that manages to capture the influence of a particular part
of a city or landscape on the human mind, or a person’s projection of
inner feeling or moods onto the outer environment. Well versed liter-
ary texts, poetry, novels or theatre plays, but also popular fiction,
comic books, journalistic writing, songs, films, official reports and
advertisement slogans, all these can have fragments or passages that
capture ‘psycho-geographic moments’ in descriptive text. All these
scattered text fragments, when put together, will make it possible to
‘read’ the life story of the (city) landscape, to ‘map’ its changes of at-
mosphere and mood (ibid.).
Literary psychogeography or psychogeographical writings, terms which I
use interchangeably, are, on a very basic level, psychogeography in writ-
ten form.62 There is one simple and quite important criterion, however,
that indicates what psychogeographical writings are not: topographical
references, – references to streets, buildings, public places, etc. – are not
This is why psychogeography and film (see, for instance, the documentaries of Patrick
Keiller), as well as psychogeography and the visual arts is widely neglected in this dis-
sertation, although it poses a great potential for further research.
In order to conduct readings of selected eighteenth-century literary psychogeography,
chapter 2.3 explores particular textual and formal elements of the latter.
52 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

enough to define a text as literary psychogeography. Instead, texts need to

contain elements describing a mood produced by the geographical sur-
roundings, or, vice versa, describing the impact of the mind on these sur-
roundings (cf. van Tijen 1991). As the individual mind has no limits and
geographical surroundings can be influenced by a myriad of factors, pro-
ducing a number of different atmospheres or ‘situations,’ psychogeo-
graphical writings and, concomitantly, urban imaginaries, can take innu-
merable forms.
In order to obtain a glimpse of the situation of contemporary liter-
ary psychogeography, the limitlessness of psychogeographical writings is
now briefly demonstrated by taking a look at today’s most successful
writers of psychogeography. Among them, but certainly not exclusively,
are Will Self, Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair. Will Self, an English au-
thor and journalist, came to fame with his column “Psychogeography”
which appeared serially in the English national newspaper “The Inde-
pendent,” before being published as a book with the title Psychogeogra-
phy (2007). Psychogeography is a collection of short pieces, each one
about walking a different city or landscape, among them Rio de Janeiro,
Rome, Dublin, the Scottish Highlands, Ohio and London. Self’s texts are
skilfully crafted, replete with choices of unusual, uncommon und uncon-
ventional words, a style stemming from his view of conventional English
prose fiction as constricting (cf. Self 2012). What is most striking about
Self’s literary psychogeography is his intention to offer a new manner of
seeing in a world where everything looks similar and familiar. And so
“[for] Self, walking is a way to see the world anew, often in simple but
striking ways” (Weiland 2007), as this excerpt from Psychogeography
[H]ere, in Stockwell, striding down to the Wandsworth Road and
working my way through the redbrick blocks of the interwar, London
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 53

County Council flats, I’m still heavily embodied […] I have limned
then hymned the fly-tipped garbage at the bottom of these flats: the
Stella Artois boxes, crushed picnic chairs, torn-out MDF kitchen units
and garish plastic toys – even the swollen gonads of the humped,
black rubbish bags. I have meditated upon our local equivalents of a
catafalque – angle irons sprouting from brick, strung with barbed wire
and steel mesh, webbed with polythene – more times than I care to
think. Oft times London is a heavy coffin, borne upon such security
ornamentation (Self 2007: 20–21).
The symbolism imposed upon a London neighbourhood allows a bleak
block of flats to appear in a different light. Conventionally passed disre-
garded or even with revulsion, Self mercilessly describes the dilapidated
condition of the Stockwell housing but at the same time appears to stand
up for them – not surprising as a Stockwell resident himself. The passage
illustrates exemplarily Self’s sense of exploring his spatial surroundings
with a fondness for all its minutiae, causing him to be constantly “dizzied
by impressions” and “oscillating in the moment” (Self 2012: 23).
As opposed to Self’s magniloquent psychogeography, Peter
Ackroyd’s style of psychogeographical writing is most notably character-
ised by elements of antiquarianism. His profound interest in history influ-
ences and is reflected in his writing style, which is sometimes referred to
as “New Antiquarianism” (cf. Coverley 2010: 123). Ackroyd’s antiquari-
anism is strongest in his massive 800-hundred-page London: The Biog-
raphy (2001), in which Ackroyd traces London’s “personality” by partly
weaving in autobiographical elements. Also reiterated throughout his oth-
er novels, such as The Great Fire of London (1982), Hawksmoor (1985)
or Chatterton (1987), London: The Biography is structured according to
different zones within London “which display chronological resonance
with earlier events, activities and inhabitants” (Coverley 2010: 124).
These areas are connected to certain activities which appear time and
again, “as if time were moved or swayed by some unknown source of
54 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

power” (Ackroyd 2001: 774). In addition to the spatial dimension of psy-

chogeography, Ackroyd hence sees temporal patterns underlying the city
that influence and even control its dwellers:
Just as it seems possible to me that a street or dwelling can materially
affect the character and behaviour of the people who live within them,
is it not also possible that within our sensibility and our language there
are patterns of continuity and resemblances? (Ackroyd 2001: 346)
Throughout Ackroyd’s works, the present is viewed as the past revisited,
creating entangled relations between times and space, which is why many
of his novels contain more than one period in which the plot unfolds.
Hawksmoor, for instance, tells two parallel stories: One time strand fol-
lows a 1980s detective trying to solve a murder series, while in the other
strand Nicholas Dyer, under the supervision of Christopher Wren, is help-
ing to build several churches in the East End of London where the twenti-
eth-century murders take place. Ackroyd’s sense of the city is that of an
eternal and illimitable one, where patterns of habitation or patterns of ac-
tivity seem to emerge in the same small territory (cf. Ackroyd 2001: 355).
Iain Sinclair developed yet another style of literary psychogeography
and notably gained fame with Lights Out for the Territory (1997) and
London Orbital (2003), both accounts of his walks in and around London.
One of Sinclair’s most popular works, London Orbital (2003), records
Sinclair’s walk around London’s orbital motorway and the experiences he
has along the way. After developing what Sinclair himself calls an “un-
healthy obsession with the M25” (Sinclair 2003: 3), the only way to come
to terms with it for him was to use it in the opposite way to that intended –
to walk the M25 instead of driving it:
Nobody can decide how long the road is, somewhere between 117 and
122 miles. By the time you’ve driven it, you don’t care. You should be
way out in another eco-system, another culture: Newport (Mon.), or
Nottingham, or Yeovil. The journey must mean something. Not a
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 55

wearied return, hobbled, to the point of origin. It was obvious, there-

fore, that the best way to come to terms with this beast was to walk it.
To set out, counterclockwise, from Waltham Abbey, and to complete
the circuit before the (official) eve of the New Millenium. (Sinclair
2003: 6–7)
London Orbital is an account of the unloved outskirts of London, of ob-
scure London places at the margins and of discovering parts of the city
which are conventionally widely neglected. As with each psychogeo-
graphical writer, Sinclair’s own way of experiencing the city and writing
about it is a mixture which Coverley calls “his own highly successful
brand of psychogeography in which urban wanderer, local historian,
avant-garde activist and political polemicist meet and coalesce” (Coverley
2010: 112). Of course there are other authors whose works may also be
called psychogeographical63, but Self, Ackroyd and Sinclair unarguably
belong to the group of authors that is currently regarded as being centred
at the core of literary psychogeography.64 But, as just shown, psychogeog-
raphy can take many shapes, and Will Self clearly points out:
Although we psychogeographers are all disciples of Guy Debord and
those rollicking Situationists who tottered, soused, across the stage set
of 1960s Paris, thereby hoping to tear down the scenery of the Society
of the Spectacle with their devilish dérive, there are still profound dif-
ferences between us. While we all want to unpick this conundrum, the
manner in which the contemporary world warps the relationship be-
tween psyche and place, the ways in which we go about the task, are
various (Self 2007: 11).
Nevertheless, what all of them have in common is the insistence “upon the
importance of the unique nature of place, entering into an intimate dia-

J.G. Ballard would be an author who should be mentioned in this regard. Both Sinclair
and Self often make references to Ballard, who served as inspiration for their own writ-
ings about the city.
For a more detailed reading of Self, Ackroyd, Sinclair and other psychogeographical
writers, see Laura Colombino’s Spatial Politics in Contemporary London Literature
56 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

logue with the city spaces they inhabit” (Green 2013: 29). But while all of
them show this great interest in the city and pursue psychogeographical
explorations of the city, why would they start writing about it?
While writing is generally a method of expression, (cf. Turchi
2004: 18), permitting one to express and immortalise individual experi-
ences and thoughts, the writing dimension of psychogeography deserves
particular attention. Having quoted Coverley earlier, who sees psychoge-
ography as the point where psychology and geography collide, etymologi-
cally, the word “psychogeography” holds yet another dimension. “Geog-
raphy” also encapsulates the word stem “graphy,” which originates from
the Greek “graphein,” which in turn means “to write.” Etymologically,
therefore, literary psychogeography links earth, mind and hand (also see
O'Rourke 2013: 6–7), creating preserved records of psychogeographical
experiences. As opposed to psychogeographical practices, where only the
practitioner himself is temporarily affected, literary psychogeography
grants all readers access to psychogeographical experiences. By means of
reading, the reader of literary psychogeography is going on a mental jour-
ney with an individual exploring the city, tracing his footsteps and per-
ceiving the city from one selected (and restrictive) viewpoint:
[J]ust as the act of writing expresses a journey through the terrain of
the imagination, so too does the act of reading itself mirror this jour-
ney, as the reader is conducted on a journey with the author as guide
(Coverley 2012: 42).
Although not only the author functions as guide in literary psychogeogra-
phy but also the texts’ protagonists, Coverley is right when he says that
the reader is conducted on a journey when reading literary psychogeogra-
phy. Psychogeographical texts, with a walking subject at their centre, cre-
ate walks that allow the reader to enter into a fiction (cf. Sinclair 2002),
paths made in words that readers can follow by means of reading. Calling
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 57

to mind Bunyan’s famous phrase, “this book will make a traveller of thee”
(Bunyan 1976 [1678]: 8), psychogeographical writings thus take their
readers on mental journeys. But considering the route taken by the psy-
chogeographical walker who does not follow a predetermined path and
often encounters obstacles, the mental journey for the reader can also be-
come something of a rough and anything but smooth tour through the text.
During this journey, psychogeographical writings capture a very spe-
cific moment in the life of the city and of life in the city. And while psy-
chogeographical practices are volatile, psychogeographical writings rec-
ord and preserve the influences of the physical environment on the behav-
iour and perception of individuals, making them much more tangible. In
this way, “the urban writer is not only a figure within a city; he/she is also
the producer of a city, one that is related to but distinct from the city of
asphalt, brick, and stone” (Parsons 2000: 1), and which the reader is able
to mentally traverse. Enabling the reader’s journey, literary psychogeog-
raphy can also be said to become a form of mapping, with the act of writ-
ing considered a mapping activity. “Like the mapmaker, the writer must
survey territory, determining which features of a given landscape to in-
clude, to emphasize, or to diminish” (Tally 2013: 45). Just as a map repre-
sents a selection of the world, psychogeographical writings also only de-
scribe fragments of (urban) space and those experiences encountered
within it. The writer of psychogeographical texts, therefore, “must deter-
mine the degree to which a given representation of a place refers to any
‘real’ place in the geographical world” (ibid. Tally 2013: 45). This degree
certainly has a wide range with different writers placing emphasis on dif-
ferent features, and so, literary psychogeography creates distinct urban
imaginaries. Hence, based on their common referent eighteenth-century
London, each psychogeographical writing is one perspective from which
the city unfolds, creating a gulf between the ‘real’ city and the ‘word city’
58 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

and making each psychogeographical writing an intense configuration

(mimesis2). It would therefore be reductionist “to insist that it [a writer’s
city] has any counterpart in the cities of the earth.” By doing so, Virginia
Woolf legitimately warns, one would “rob it of half its charm” (Woolf
1986 [1905]: 35, also see Ameel: 22). This implies that psychogeograph-
ical writings are, as referenced earlier, more than a descriptive act or mi-
metic attempt to transcribe urban experiences. Therefore, Pike argues,
"[t]he many links between the real city and the word-city are indirect and
complex, and not, as they might at first appear, simple references from
one to the other" (Pike 1981: x). Instead, the Textstädte (cf. Mahler) creat-
ed in literary texts are not cities of the real world, but create their own in-
tra-textual reality in a complex interaction of the real, the fictional and the
imaginary (cf. Iser)
For literary psychogeography, a walking entity exploring the (urban)
environment on foot is always a prerequisite, as it is through this instance
that earth, mind and hand are linked:
Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world
are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversa-
tion together, three notes suddenly making a chord (Solnit 2002
[2001]: 5).
For Sinclair, calling himself and other psychogeographical writers a “ped”
type of writer (short for pedestrian, see Self and Sinclair 2008), walking is
the prime way of accessing material. And so, in literary psychogeography,
the spatial practice of subjectively experiencing one’s geographical envi-
ronment coalesces with the written word. Asked in an interview what it
feels like to write psychogeography, Will Self and Iain Sinclair both state
that for them, walks are actual narratives (cf. Self and Sinclair 2008), and
that the act of walking becomes the means of reading a landscape (also
see Coverley 2012: 42–43). But for Self and Sinclair, walks not only nar-
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 59

rate the urban environment, but also let the city speak to them, narrating
their inner state:
Will Self: part of the beauty [of psychogeographical walking] is to not
do that [imposing words to geography] and let [the environment]
speak to you and if it is dull then let it be dull, and if you have no
thoughts let you have no thoughts, and if you keep thinking about a
tiresome pop lyric, you know what the Germans call the ear-worm that
gets inside your head and you can’t shake it off, then let that be part of
it as well (Self and Sinclair).
The process of writing psychogeography is thus very different from other
writing processes, where geography might be chosen in advance to sup-
port plot or characters or the other way round. Instead, psychogeograph-
ical writings are based on a walker whose walking activity is improvisa-
tional, and where the walker lets himself be dragged into the city.
To conclude, psychogeography tries to set one free from the ha-
bitual paths, the “small set of pre-programmed instructions” (Hart 2004:
1) that people usually follow as they walk through the city. It encourages
breaking free from routes taken every day and seeing the familiar with
new, different eyes. Its purpose is that of defamiliarisation65, of rendering
the usual unfamiliar, thereby recovering “the sensation[s] of life” (Shklov-
sky 1965 [1917]: 12). Psychogeography “removes objects from the au-
tomaton of perception” (ibid.) and allows for experiencing familiar objects
and spaces anew. The city, thus, “always speaks, and with many voices”
(Pike 1981: ix). Literary psychogeography expresses these voices with the
help of the written word and each psychogeographical writing is a piece of
a fragmented and subjective kaleidoscope (cf. Pike 1981: xiii). Through
narrative, literary psychogeography preserves psychogeographical experi-

The term was coined by Victor Shklovsky and became a key term for formalist literary
60 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

ences of the city, bringing the real, the fictional and the imaginary into

1.2.3. Literary Psychogeography: Now and Then

The term psychogeography, it seems, is first and foremost connected with

the Parisian Situationists. After closer inspection, however, the context
from which psychogeography rose is rather narrow, which obscures psy-
chogeography’s much broader potential for reading, writing and under-
standing urban literature. As Coverley rightfully observes, psychogeogra-
phy is “a shifting series of interwoven themes and constantly being re-
shaped by its practitioners” (Coverley 2010: 10), and so, once psychoge-
ography is looked at beyond its Situationist context on both sides of the
timeline, it becomes obvious that psychogeography is in fact anything but
firmly fixed to 1950s Paris. I turn my attention towards predecessors of
psychogeography and am concerned with earlier traces of literary psycho-
geography dating back to the eighteenth century. While the next chapter
substantiates that a psychogeographical approach to texts from the eight-
eenth century should be particularly encouraged, I shall emphasise here
that this approach is in no way historically confined.
Contemporary literary psychogeography, in its variety of forms,
in one way or another remains a response to urban governance, thrives on
a critical and resistant stance and often displays a political undertone. In
that way, it shares the purpose with Situationist psychogeographical prac-
tices which were carried out as a subversive act against the political and
social implications of consumerism and capitalism. As a brief look at the
works of three contemporary psychogeographers has demonstrated, con-
temporary literary psychogeography comes in many forms. Sinclair’s re-
cent non-fiction work Ghost Milk (2012), to give another example of re-
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 61

cent psychogeographical writing, exposes the great myth behind the Lon-
don Olympics of 2012 and in that way is an immediate literary response to
urban politics. Ghost Milk records the preparations and transformations of
London’s East End, Hackney and Stratford into the fantasy of urban plan-
ners, a space created by computer graphics and, ultimately, “the insidious
CGI promos of the 2012 Olympic dream” (Sinclair 2012: 11). Sinclair
wrote Ghost Milk “in memory of the […] Manor Garden Allotments”
(Sinclair 2012) and thus dedicates his book to the gardens that were de-
molished to make way for the Olympic sites. This critical and slightly
nostalgic undertone, already established before the text effectively begins,
runs through the entire book and thereby follows the anti-consumerist and
anti-corporate notions of recent literary psychogeography.66
Reminiscent of Guy Debord and his rebellion against the “Dictator-
ship of the Automobile,” the walking activity in contemporary literary
psychogeography is mainly directed against the dominance of modern
means of transportation. Urban planning becomes more and more adjusted
to transportation, while walking as the most natural form of movement is
more and more neglected, making cities hostile towards pedestrians. And
it is precisely because of that that psychogeographers set out to experience
the city on foot:
[…] why I’ve kind of set my cap at these airport walks is because I
think that that is the most prescribed folk-way there is, you don’t just
walk to the airport, it's sort of inadmissible (Self and Sinclair: n.p.).
Walking in contemporary literary psychogeography is therefore a form of
resistance to urban planning, an act of defiance against the prescribed
ways of moving about. Walking is a conscious decision of letting oneself
not be restricted by urban space and instead taking the personal freedom

For a more detailed reading of Ghost Milk see Berensmeyer and Löffler (forthcoming).
62 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

to walk wherever one wants. Still, it is generally understood that contem-

porary literary psychogeography was influenced “by earlier strains of ur-
ban adventure, including the nineteenth-century concept of the flâneur, the
idle man-about-town who observed and commented on the urban scene”
(Hart 2004: 2). Self and Sinclair themselves point to even earlier strains,
mentioning writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Machen, Thomas de
Quincey and William Wordsworth (cf. Self and Sinclair), but unfortunate-
ly not explaining in detail why they see a connection between themselves
and these writers. Undeniably, psychogeographical ideas existed long be-
fore the Situationist International could label it as such and could develop
a theory based on urban experiences in relation to individual and psycho-
logical dimensions of everyday life. Literature anticipated psychogeo-
graphical ideas and thus the tradition of writing about the city with regard
to subjective explorations of the latter predates not only contemporary
literary psychogeography, but also the Situationist International. And yet,
there are some crucial differences that need to be considered when ap-
proaching eighteenth-century literary explorations of London with psy-
While contemporary literary psychogeography is politically
charged, influenced by postmodernism, anti-capitalism and Situationism,
eighteenth-century literary psychogeography flourished under quite dif-
ferent circumstances. A rebuilding of London at the end of the seven-
teenth and beginning of the eighteenth century transformed the English
capital into the biggest and most important metropolis in Europe. 67 As a
consequence, Londoners and visitors to London had to get used to the
newly urbanised city, and as one means of doing so, started exploring it.
Eighteenth-century literary psychogeography is rooted in this contempo-

For more on the destruction and rebuilding of London see chapter 2.1.
1.2. Psychogeography and Urban Space: From Walking to Writing 63

rary desire to understand the new London, to absorb and observe the vari-
ety of urban experiences offered by the city and in a shift towards favour-
ing subjective impressions of the city over objective information given in,
for instance, maps or surveys of London. In contrast to its contemporary
successor, therefore, where the aim is a re-appropriation of the city, eight-
eenth-century literary psychogeography processes an accustoming to a
suddenly modern city which required a new urban identity. Thus, it is par-
ticularly interesting to see how individuals personally reacted to their new
city and to examine the effects the new urban space had on them. There-
fore, eighteenth-century literary psychogeography shows how people are
“affected by being in certain places – architecture, weather, who [they are]
with – […]” and therefore displays “a general sense of excitement about
place” (Hart 2004: 1). Exploring the city on foot is, just like in contempo-
rary literary psychogeography, the mode through which London in the
texts selected for this study is experienced. Although not the only option
any more, walking in eighteenth-century London is not as subversive as it
is in contemporary London, where the streets have become hostile to pe-
destrians. While other means of transportation were certainly available in
eighteenth-century London (e.g. Hackney coaches or water travel), the
figures in the texts deliberately choose walking as their means of moving
about, as it ensures the most direct and immediate experiences of the new
city.68 In any event, contemporary literary psychogeography and eight-
eenth-century literary psychogeography thrived under different circum-
stances and evolved in different contexts. Nevertheless, they both explore
the nexus between the human psyche and the geographical environment
and record feelings and effects triggered by urban experiences. Chroni-
cling different ambiances that individual walkers perceive while walking
In particular, see John Gay’s Trivia, in which the London walker lists all the advantages
of walking over taking a coach, chapter 3.1.
64 1. Experiencing the City: Urban Space in Literature

through the streets, literary psychogeography creates visions of London

that oscillate between the real and the imagined.
2. Bodies and Spaces: Eighteenth-Century Literary
Psychogeography and the London Walker

Certainly this year of 1666 will be a great year of action,

but what the consequence of it will be God Knows.

Samuel Pepys

While I have sketched the origins of (literary) psychogeography and its

contemporary strands in the first chapter, putting psychogeography in a
larger theoretical framework of real-and-imagined spaces, the second
chapter focuses exclusively on literary psychogeography from the eight-
eenth century.
In order to understand the historical context and the connection
between London’s development and the increasing cultural and social im-
portance of walking in the period, I first outline the events that unfolded in
London at the end of the seventeenth century (2.1.). Chapter 2.2, then
sheds a closer light on walking in eighteenth-century London, looking at
the development of pedestrian areas and the establishment of “walking
behaviour,” before clarifying the term “London walkers” that I use
throughout Part II. In a last step, chapter 2.3 catalogues characteristics of
eighteenth-century literary psychogeography, elaborating on topical and
formal elements of the texts to be analysed in Part II.

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017

C. Löffler, Walking in the City,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-17743-0_3
66 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

2.1. From Ashes to Phoenix: London Destroyed and Rebuilt

The City Destroyed: “London Was, but Is No More”69

In the seventeenth century, London was not only shaken politically, but
also materially destroyed by fire and plague. For England, and London in
particular, the seventeenth century was a time of upheaval, instability and
insecurity that in great part centred around the ruling monarch, Charles I.
When political compromise failed at the beginning of the 1640s, England
was divided into two camps: Royalists and Parliamentarians. An inevita-
ble English Civil War lasted from 1642-1648 and reached a peak with the
execution of Charles. The monarchy was substituted by the Common-
wealth of England, with Oliver Cromwell as head of state or Lord Protec-
tor, “a king in all but name” (Hollis 2008: 35). After Cromwell’s death in
1658, the republic crumbled and eventually, the monarchy was restored in
1660 and Charles’ son, Charles II, was crowned king. Although the com-
mon people welcomed the king back, the irony of the situation came with
an ironic aftertaste (cf. ibid: 63): “Crouds err not, though to both Extreams
they run;/ to kill the Father, and recal the Son” (Evelyn 1709: 11). Alt-
hough the political and social instabilities in the latter half of the seven-
teenth century played an important role in the development of eighteenth-
century London, here I focus on the material destruction of the city, as the
man-made problems in seventeen-century London – riots and political
upheaval – destabilising as they were, did not threaten “London’s liveli-
hood, the viability of its population, or its very existence” (Buchholz and
Ward 2012: 309). Eventually, it was two natural disasters that were the
catalysts for a new London that would rise to be the biggest city in eight-
eenth-century Europe.

Evelyn (1955 [1666]).
2.1. From Ashes to Phoenix: London Destroyed and Rebuilt 67

The Great Plague of London, 1665-1666, was the last major out-
break of the bubonic plague in the United Kingdom. The last four lines of
Daniel Defoe’s account of the epidemic in A Journal of the Plague Year
(1722), sum up the events and their legacy:
A dreadful Plague in London was,
In the Year Sixty Five,
Which swept an Hundred Thousand Souls
Away; yet I alive! (Defoe 2003 [1722]: 238).
The Great Plague killed approximately 56 000 Londoners – more than
12% of London’s population. Including the suburbs and marginal areas of
London, the death toll reached between 70 000 and 100 000 (cf. Buchholz
and Ward 2012: 313). The plague spread rapidly and deaths occurred by
the minute; while symptoms appeared in three to seven days, death could
come suddenly, so that it was not unusual for people to drop dead in the
streets. But, as Cynthia Wall explains in the introduction to the Journal’s
2003 edition, pain and death were not the only horrors during the plague
[Y]ou could be quarantined, shut up in your house with watchmen
guarding and a red cross on your door – trapped inside because some-
one reported your master (or your maidservant) infected, trapped with
the disease and therefore sentenced to death. What might you do, in
your panic to escape? Bribe (or even kill) the watchman? Slip through
a back window on to a roof, or through a shed into an alley? Once free
in the streets, what then? Fear and panic could destroy the city as
much as plague itself (Wall 2003: xviii).
Although fear of infection and death was ever-present during the plague
years, London had to face other severe problems that came with the epi-
demic as well. Fear and panic were catalysts for crime, vandalism and a
general loss of morale. While the rich, most doctors, the court and the
government fled the city, the people remaining in London were left on
their own, struggling to keep themselves and their families alive. The
68 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

struggle for food became one of the biggest problems, and so, the number
of thefts and break-ins increased significantly. Moreover, the loss of mo-
rale resulted in attempts to infect or even murder others, as the plague
“took away all compassions” (Journal 111-112).70 What made things par-
ticularly dreadful was the layout of the city: London was overcrowded, the
streets were narrow and winding, and the city wall contributed to a gener-
ally claustrophobic feeling:
London at the time of the Plague, 1665 was, perhaps, as much crouded
with People as I suppose Marseilles to have been when the Plague be-
gun [in 1719]; the Streets of London were in the Time of the Pesti-
lence very Narrow, and, as I am Inform’d, unpaved for the most Part;
the Houses by continu’d Jetts one Story above another, made them
almost meet at the Garrets, so that the Air within the Streets was pent
up, and had not a due Freedom of Passage, to purifie it self as it ought
(Bradley 1721: 11).
Although the epidemic had no severe long-term economic consequences,
it left London devastated when it finally receded in spring 1666. Moreo-
ver, the plague went hand in hand with a population growth in the 1660s,
and ultimately showed rather plainly that a London based on a medieval
outline of the city had become obsolete and had reached a limit, so that
impending change was necessary. The city was not able to cope with the
steadily increasing number of its inhabitants, and Buchholz and Ward, in
their history of eighteenth-century London, ask quite boldly: “[I]ndeed,
one wonders how the metropolis would have coped if these people had not
died” (Buchholz and Ward 2012: 313). But before people had the chance
to start thinking about possible alterations or modifications to the layout
of London, the Great Fire of 1666 burned London to its grounds. 71

For a detailed reading of Defoe’s Journal see chapter 4.
For more on the Great Plague see Moote and Moote’s The Great Plague: The Story of
London's Most Deadly Year (2004).
2.1. From Ashes to Phoenix: London Destroyed and Rebuilt 69

Shortly after midnight on 2nd September 1666, a fire started in the

bakery of Thomas Farriner in Pudding Lane in the northeast of London.
After a dry summer, London became even more combustible than it al-
ready was. The narrow outline of the city was not the only problem that
accelerated the expansion of the fire, as most buildings in London, with
the exception of some churches, palaces and guild halls, were built from
wood and plaster. Moreover, there were a lot of open hearths in the city,
as well as thatched roofs and timbered houses (ibid. 319). As a conse-
quence, the materiality of London provided the ideal starting point for the
flames, as Defoe retrospectively observes in his A Tour Thro’ the Whole
Island of Great Britain:
Before the Fire of London, Annus 1666, the Buildings look’d as if
they had been formed to make one general Bonfire, whenever any
wicked Incendiaries should think fit to attempt it; for the Streets were
not only narrow, and the Houses all built with Timber, Lath, and Plas-
ter; but the Manner of the Building in those Days one Story projecting
out beyond another, was such, that in some narrow Streets the Houses
almost touch’d one another at the Top; insomuch that it often hap-
pened, that if a House was on Fire, the opposite House was in more
Danger, according as the Wind stood, than the Houses adjoining on ei-
ther Side (Vol. I Defoe 1742: 96).
The fire spread rapidly and left Londoners helpless. The city was not
equipped to extinguish a fire, as there was no organised fire brigade just
yet.72 When the fire spread to the docks and met explosives there, Lon-
doners could only stand by and watch. Contrasting the court’s behaviour
during the plague year, however, during the Great Fire it was the king and
the government who took matters into their hands, and so “the govern-
mental reaction to the fire stood in contrast to that toward the plague: this

After the severe damage of the Great Fire, fire insurance brigades were founded to deal
with future fires. The Great Fire of 1666, therefore, was, one might say, the initiator of
the London fire brigades.
70 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

time it was the court that rose to the occasion while the City stood para-
lyzed” (ibid. 322). Building firebreaks eventually proved to be successful
after the fire had raged for three days. 15% of the people living in London
were rendered homeless, with many more losing their possessions. Lon-
don’s greatest symbolic loss, however, was the destruction of St. Paul’s
Cathedral, which collapsed two days after the outbreak:
The stones of Paules flew like Granados, the Lead mealting downe the
streetes in a streame, & the very pavements of them glowing with
fiery rednesse, so as nor horse nor man was able to tread on them
(Evelyn 1955 [1818]: 454).
Although a negligent accident started the fire, Londoners were quick to
seek out scapegoats of which the most popularly accused were dissenters
and foreigners. For want of a scapegoat, a French Catholic immigrant,
Robert Hubert was executed on September 28th 1666, although it was dis-
covered later that he had not even been in London when the fire broke out
(cf. Buchholz and Ward 2012: 325). Although 1666 was not the only time
London was struck by fire, 73 the Great Fire was the one with the most se-
vere long-term impacts and until today remains the outbreak that is re-
membered most 74 Until today, it is commemorated by Christopher Wren’s
Monument. Erected in “perpetual remembrance” of the fire in 1670-71,
the Monument stands 202 feet tall, the distance between Farriner’s bakery
and the base of the Monument (also see Moore 1998).75

Other major fires were the fires in Southwark in 1212 and 1675, as well as the burning
of Whitehall Palace in 1691 and 1698.
The British television channel ITV released a mini-series in the autumn of 2014 titled
The Great Fire, which is centred around the baker Thomas Farringer and King Charles’
attempts at keeping the fire under control. This shows that even more than 300 years af-
ter the outbreak of the fire, the Great Fire of 1666 is still an important part of British
cultural history.
For more on the Great Fire of London see The Great Fire of London: In That Apocalyp-
tic Year, 1666 (2001) or The Great Fire of London (1986).
2.1. From Ashes to Phoenix: London Destroyed and Rebuilt 71

Despite everything, the fatal events of the 1660s set something in

motion. John Dryden was among the first to recognise the potential of the
seventeenth-century tragedies for London. His poem “Annus Mirabilis,”
written in commemoration of the years 1665 and 166676, celebrates the
events of these years as bearing great potential for London and the nation
as a whole. His prediction, “Methinks already from this chemic flame/ I
see a city of more precious mould” was to become true. Within a week of
the fire, the first architects started handing in their ideas and concepts for
the rebuilding of London. What certainly was a horrendous catastrophe
for London in a national context thus proved to be a great opportunity for
the city in a grander European context. And so,
[i]n three days, the timber-and-thatch London of the Middle Ages, of
the Tudors and of Shakespeare, was wiped off the map, preparing the
way for a new, more modern, city of brick and stone to rise in its place
(Whitfield 2006: 53).

The City Rebuilt: Resurgam – I Shall Rise

“Resurgam” – I shall rise – was inscribed upon a stone77 used to lay the
foundation for the new St. Paul’s cathedral, which was to become a land-
mark of modern London. It summarises the aspirations of a group of ar-
chitects involved in the rebuilding of the destroyed city. An inscription of
the phrase can still be found carved on a pediment of St. Paul’s today,
where “Resurgam” is inscribed beneath an imposing phoenix with vast
wings spread over flames.

The poem does not only commemorate the Great Plague and the Great Fire, but also
England’s victories in the Anglo-Dutch war.
Stones used for building the foundation of the new St. Paul’s cathedral were actually
old bricks from St. Paul’s.
72 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

Only a few days after the fire, talk of rebuilding already began
and the first plans for a new London were proposed. Most notably among
the architects eager to remodel London were Christopher Wren and John
Evelyn, who both handed in plans for a new London immediately after the
fire.78 Neither of their maps for the rebuilding, however, was ever imple-
mented. Wren and Evelyn envisaged a London modelled on Baroque Ital-
ian towns, with wide symmetrical boulevards, avenues, central plazas and
squares. Their proposals, however, were too impractical for the immediate
needs London saw itself confronted with: London was neither in a posi-
tion to finance the architects’ baroque designs, nor was there enough time
to carry out their plans. Instead, London was in want of a fast rebuilding
of the city so that in fact, London’s old street lines were reconstructed.
Still, the rebuilding brought tremendous change for the English capital.
The alterations were multi-dimensional and did not only trigger geograph-
ical changes, but also social, cultural and economic developments. In the
1660s, as discussed earlier, London’s population grew steadily and rapid-
ly. As Daniel Defoe observed in his Tour of Great Britain, London’s in-
creasing population as well as its geographical expansion were taken into
And tho’ by the new Buildings after the Fire much Ground was given
up to inlarge the Streets, yet it is to be observed, that the old Houses
stood generally upon more Ground, were much larger upon the Flat,
and in many Places Gardens and large Yards about them, so that there
are many more Houses built than stood before on the same Ground
(Defoe 1742: 96–97).
Although London’s old street lines were reconstructed, the space of the
streets was enlarged and more buildings could be erected, providing hous-
ing for more people than before. As a consequence, the fire, although be-

Others included Richard Newcourt and Valentine Knight.
2.1. From Ashes to Phoenix: London Destroyed and Rebuilt 73

ing considered a great calamity, was also regarded as “a great opportunity

to fix everything that was wrong with London before the conflagration”
(Hollis 2008: 327). And so, London grew as a patchwork of parks, squares
and bridges and thus in immediate response to the practical needs of its
inhabitants (cf. Hudson 2002: 583).
The rebuilding had to comply with certain requirements constituted
under the Act for Rebuilding the City of London of 1667. The act con-
tained 50 paragraphs, each of them concerned with a different aspect re-
garding the rebuilding. Paragraph five, for instance, standardised the ma-
terial from which houses should be built:
And in reguard the building with Bricke is not onely more comely and
durable but alsoe more safe against future perills of Fire. Be it further
enacted by and with the Authoritie aforesaid That all the outsides of
all Buildings in and about the said Citty be henceforth made of Bricke
or Stone or of Bricke and Stone together except Doore cases and Win-
dow Frames (Raithby 1810-1828 [1667]: 604).
The fire proved thatch roofs and timber frames perilous building materi-
als, so that after 1666, the cityscape was dominated by brick and stone
rather than timber. Another paragraph is concerned with the width of the
streets, thus altering the former medieval outline of the city that was char-
acterised by dark, narrow and winding alleyways:
And whereas many auntient Streets and Passages within the said Citty
and Libertyes thereof, and amongst others those which are hereafter
mentioned were narrow and incommodious for Carriages and Passen-
gers and prejudiciall to the Trade and Health of the Inhabitants and are
necessary to be inlarged as well for the Convenience as Ornament of
the Citty (Raithby 1810-1828 [1667]: 605).
Paragraph three constitutes the style of houses to be built, distinguishing
between four sorts of houses:
Be it enacted That there shall be onely fower sortes of Buildings and
noe more, and that all manner of Houses soe to be erected shall be of
74 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

one of those [four] sortes of Buildings and noe other (that is to say)
The First and least sort of Houses fronting By lanes, the Second sort
of Houses fronting Streets and Lanes of note, the Third sort of Houses
fronting high and principall Streetes, the Fourth and largest sort of
Mansion houses for Citizens or other persons of extraordinary quality
not fronting either of the three former Wayes And the Roofes of each
of the said first three sorts of Houses respectively shall be uniforme
(Raithby 1810-1828 [1667]: 603)
The specific instructions of the act hint at a certain style of architecture
that was to be adhered to. Terms like “comely” or “uniforme” imply that a
clear-cut, symmetrical, simple and elegant architectural style was re-
quired, so post-fire London was not remodelled on richly ornamented and
fanciful Baroque towns, but instead adopted a new and more elegant style
(cf. Whitfield 2006: 53; Barfield and Sands 2014).79 London’s develop-
ment as a whole, however, was not planned in the modern sense, “for
there was no controlling hand: it was a triumph of private initiative, pri-
vate money and private taste” (Whitfield 2006: 56). As London was in
need of a quick reconstruction, numerous private investors made generous
contributions, of which the names of the biggest London squares such as
Berkeley Square, Cavendish Square and Grosvenor Square are still re-
The rebuilding of London also brought about social changes.
While in pre-fire London, rich and poor, masters and servants lived side
by side, the creation of new exclusive and superior districts after the fire
generated topographical and social distinctions (cf. Whitfield 2006: 57).
The West End, for instance, became established as a fashionable area,
whereas especially the East End of London became home to the impover-

Especially under the Georgians, the neo-Palladian style became rather fashionable in
London. Buildings in the neo-Palladian style were stark in the sense of plain, clear-cut,
symmetrical and elegant. Neo-Palladianism was particularly fashionable in Protestant
European countries, as it strongly contrasted with a “catholic” Baroque style.
2.1. From Ashes to Phoenix: London Destroyed and Rebuilt 75

ished. 80 Nevertheless, due to the establishment of public spaces and the

sharing of the same, crowds mingled on the streets 81, but the social dis-
tinctions formed a strong binary opposition with riches and splendour on
the one side, and crime and poverty on the other:
The world of Georgian London was officially one of elegance, fash-
ion, show and laughter; but there was an underside, the Beggar’s-
Opera world of slums, crime, brothels, gaming-dens, prisons, and
madhouses (ibid. 64).82
While such social distinctions are discovered in the analytical chapters,
late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century London also witnessed a
tremendous economic growth. London quickly became the crossroads of
the world’s trade, handling over 80% of England’s imports, 67% of its
exports and 87% of its re-exports (cf. Jahn and Buchholz 2005: 89).83 The
dimensions of London’s social and economic development were vast: the
population growth, the commercial and financial revolutions and mass
consumerism were not only received positively, but provided food for
thought, too. Numerous publications reflect a contemporary interest in the
development of London. Bernard Mandeville, an Anglo-Dutch economist
and satirist, for instance, published The Fable of the Bees in 171484, in

This topographical and social distinction between West and East London remains until
Also see chapter 2.2.
The slums of Victorian nineteenth-century London also had their roots during this time
when London became socially divided. Wohl 2009 and Koven 2004 offer a good intro-
duction to Victorian slums.
Moreover, the number of stock companies exploded, as people began to seek new ways
of increasing their money. A lack of government regulations concerning the stock mar-
ket, however, resulted in various crashes, most notoriously the South Sea Bubble of
An earlier version that only contained the poem “The Grumbling Hive or, Knaves
Turn’d Honest” was published in 1705.
76 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

which he compares London to an economic beehive. 85 The Fable of the

Bees consists of the poem “The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn’d Hon-
est” and extensive remarks on the latter. In the poem, London is intro-
duced as a metropolitan space that radiates energy and vitality, “a spa-
cious Hive well stock’d with Bees/ that lived in Luxury and Ease” (Man-
deville 1970 [1714]: 63). The entire poem is based on key principles of
economic thought, economic development and economic interaction in a
city at the beginning stages of urbanisation. In the course of the Fable, the
citizens of a prosperous community abandon any luxuries in favour of
saving, while the government cuts down armaments, resulting in the de-
mise of the community. In that way, Mandeville’s Fable is not only a pre-
cursor of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (Smith 1999 [1776]]),
widely regarded as the first modern work on economics, but a pioneering
work in that it promoted “the doctrine that prosperity was increased by
expenditure rather than by saving” (cited in Keynes 1973 [1936]: xxi).
The Fable of the Bees was not received well; instead, where it attracted
attention, it was perceived as scandalous. The scandal sprang from Man-
deville’s claim that the prosperity London was witnessing was not owed
to hard work, frugality or even amicable cooperation, but instead to the
vices of the people and their desire for luxury:
what renders him [man] a Sociable Animal, consists not in his desire
of Company, Good-nature, Pity, Affability, and other Graces of a fair
Outside; but that his vilest and most hateful Qualities are the most
necessary Accomplishments to fit him for the largest, and, according
to the World, the happiest and most flourishing Societies […]

Although Mandeville never actually refers to London, it is without doubt that the poem
is a comment on the English capital. Mandeville, in the preface of the Fable, states that
“What Country soever in the Universe is to be understood by the Bee-Hive represented
here, it is evident from what is said of the Laws and Constitution of it, the Glory,
Wealth, Power and Industry of its Inhabitants, that it must be a large, rich and warlike
Nation that is happily governed by a limited Monarchy” (Mandeville 1970 [1714]: 54).
2.1. From Ashes to Phoenix: London Destroyed and Rebuilt 77

[T]he main Design of the Fable, (as it is briefly explain’d in the Mor-
al) is to shew the Impossibility of enjoying all the most elegant Com-
forts of Life that are to be met with in an industrious, wealthy and
powerful Nation, and at the same time be bless’d with all the Virtue
and Innocence that can be wish’d for in a Golden Age; from thence to
expose the Unreasonableness and Folly of those, that desirous of be-
ing an opulent and flourishing People, and wonderfully greedy after
all the Benefits they can receive as such, are yet always murmuring at
and exclaiming against those Vices and Inconveniences, that from the
Beginning of the World to this present Day, have been inseparable
from all Kingdoms and States that ever were fam’d for Strength,
Riches, and Politeness, at the same time (Mandeville 1970 [1714]: 53–
The gist of the Fable, so Goldsmith suggests, was that not only the claim
that good morals are necessary to nurture and maintain urban prosperity,
but that human vices and natural evils like the Great Fire produced good
as well (Goldsmith 2004). With his Fable, Mandeville presents an implicit
model of urban action and interaction in an astonishing analogy to the
natural world: the metaphor of a bustling beehive and interdependent col-
ony of bees. 86 Mandeville’s fable shows that the rise of London, that

In fact, the bee terminology is not exclusive to Mandeville’s Fable. An analogy with a
beehive is often used to describe the conditions in London and to depict the city as an
economic hive. A (possibly feigned) reader’s letter to The Spectator, for instance,
makes use of that analogy, too:
Mr. Spectator,
Upon reading your Tuesday's Paper, I find by several Symptoms in my Constitu-
tion that I am a Bee. My Shop, or, if you please to call it so, my Cell, is in that
great Hive of Females which goes by the Name of The New Exchange; where I
am daily employed in gathering together a little Stock of Gain from the finest
Flowers about the Town, I mean the Ladies and the Beaus. I have a numerous
Swarm of Children, to whom I give the best Education I am able: But, Sir, it is
my Misfortune to be married to a Drone, who lives upon what I get, without
bringing any thing into the common Stock. Now, Sir, as on the one hand I take
care not to behave myself towards him like a Wasp, so likewise I would not have
him look upon me as an Humble-Bee; for which Reason I do all I can to put him
upon laying up Provisions for a bad Day, and frequently represent to him the fa-
tal Effects his Sloth and Negligence may bring upon us in our old Age. I must
78 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

“metropolitan experiment that was creating a new urban way of life”

(Brant and Whyman 2007: 2), was certainly something that occupied con-
temporary minds. Thus, as devastating as Civil War, political upheaval,
plague and fire were, London survived. By 1708, London was the biggest
city in Europe and became a harbinger of the modern city. The eighteenth
century saw prosperous times for London and Great Britain and not with-
out pride did
Londoners continue[..] to celebrate the power of their city as the eco-
nomic and political capital of an expanding empire. […] This great-
ness was expressed in their pride on London’s capacity to absorb hu-
man life in all its variety, and to become, as it were, the very embodi-
ment of the world that it increasingly dominated and consumed (Hud-
son 2002: 578).
Instead of crumbling, London lived up to Christopher Wren’s “Resurgam”
and in the process “acquired an energy, a momentum, and an urban style
which acted as the motor, not only for its own economy but also for that
of the nation as a whole, a momentum for change and diversification
which has never slowed” (Whitfield 2006: 60). Topographical, social, cul-
tural and economic developments were catalysts for a strong English capi-
tal which continued to thrive throughout the eighteenth century and re-
mains so until today. On his tour around “the whole island of Great Brit-
ain,” Daniel Defoe, too, wonders “how much farther it may spread, who
knows? New squares, and new streets rising up every day to such a prodi-
gy of buildings, that nothing in the world does, or ever did, equal it, ex-
cept old Rome in Trajan’s time” (Defoe 1742: 314 Vol I.).

beg that you will join with me in your good Advice upon this Occasion, and you
will for ever oblige
Your humble Servant, Melissa (Addison 1711 Nov 1, 1711).
2.2. Into the Streets: Walking in Eighteenth-Century London 79

2.2. Into the Streets: Walking in Eighteenth-Century London

Yet perception of the new qualities of the modern city

had been associated, from the beginning,
with a man walking […] in its streets.

Raymond Williams, The Country and the City

As outlined in the previous chapter, the rapid urbanisation of London was

part of a longer historical process that began in the mid-seventeenth centu-
ry. In a period of 200 years, London’s population increased tenfold, reach-
ing around half a million inhabitants in 1700; one hundred years later,
London had swelled to almost a million people (cf. Borsay 2002: 197). 87
The profound changes wrought by urbanisation affected everyday life in
the capital and had far-reaching effects on the social and cultural devel-
opment of the city. As I am concerned with psychogeographical explora-
tions of the city, for which walking is crucial, this chapter now focuses on
eighteenth-century walking and its various contexts: Were there regula-
tions that facilitated or restricted walking? Why did the eighteenth century
witness such a vast number of walking narratives? What did walking
through the streets of eighteenth-century London imply and what is its
connection to literary psychogeography? What characterises the London

The Street
Amidst the rebuilding of London, the quality of street space was improved
significantly. As set out in the previous chapter, a number of Acts for re-

Note that population figures before the first census of 1801 are not entirely reliable, as
they exclude religious groups other than Protestants and foreigners, among others.
80 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

building London regulated the city’s reconstruction, and, as a conse-

quence, initiated a new awareness towards and interest in town planning:
[t]he quality of street space was boosted by improved paving, cleans-
ing and lighting; novel large-scale architectural forms were introduced
like the terrace, the crescent and the square; there was a surge of in-
vestment in public buildings [...] and there was a new interest in town
planning. Paralleling this enhancement of the urban fabric went a
wide-ranging upgrading of the town's cultural facilities. The provision
of commercial theatre and music was greatly expanded, as was access
to print culture, with the emergence of the London and provincial
press, and the growth in bookshops, libraries, coffee houses and book
clubs. Fashionable recreational life was transformed with the devel-
opment of public walks and gardens, the commercialization and ur-
banization of sports such as horseracing and cricket, and the rise of the
assemblies of a spectacularly rich variety of clubs, societies and asso-
ciations (Borsay 2002: 202, also see Jones and Falkus 1990: 128f.).
Simultaneous with cultural developments and the establishment of public
spaces, which is discussed further on, the open space of the street was
greatly affected by these reforms.88 Various eighteenth-century Paving

As Jones and Falkus argue, it was mostly a change of attitude that impelled urbanisation during
that time. Not only did the formation of different commissions, such as street, paving and lamp
commissions or occupations that assisted the urban growth such as street cleaners or porters, di-
vide responsibilities and thus bring structure to such overwhelming processes of urbanisation. Al-
so, the general attitude towards problems occurring changed:
The advent of less-congested town streets and better paving and lighting was accom-
panied by a significant, though gradual, change of attitudes towards social and eco-
nomic progress. Before the eighteenth century the prevailing attitude had been very
much to contain change, and to confine developments within the established and
known framework and organization. Thus, when London's vigorous expansion began
to perturb authorities early in the seventeenth century, the King and Parliament sought
to check London's growth by prohibiting new buildings. When ironbound wheels on
carts, big wagons, and large teams of horses threatened to break up the flimsy pave-
ments, numerous local bylaws and parliamentary legislation endeavored to protect
streets by checking and regulating the types of carts, width of wheels, numbers of
horses, and so on. Traffic restrictions remained, but slowly the notion of adapting
roads to vehicles rather than the other way around began to prevail" (Jones and Falkus
1990: 131).
2.2. Into the Streets: Walking in Eighteenth-Century London 81

and Lighting Acts document these developments. 89 While street-lighting

extended the duration people could actually spend in the streets, good
pavements, street names and numbering of houses brought structure into
the bustling cityscape, facilitating navigation through the city. Street im-
provement also structured pedestrians’ course through the city, as for the
first time, certain spaces were dedicated to pedestrians only, such as
pavements. As Charles de Saussure observed on his visit to London,
[t]he streets are long, wide, and straight, some of them being more
than a mile in length. On either side of the streets the ground is raised
and paved with flat stones, so that you can walk in the streets without
danger of being knocked down by coaches and horses (Saussure 1902
[1725]: 36).90
Although pavements were not yet established consistently throughout the
entire city, the building of slightly elevated footpaths on either side of the
street was an attempt at establishing and maintaining order in a city that
was constantly growing. Another benefit of elevated footpaths was that
they ensured bump-free travel. Edward Ward, in “The Merry Travellers,”
directly contrasts the pleasantries of elevated, smooth pavements with the
bumpy, uneven condition of streets that had not been improved yet:
Now, to the easing of our Bones,
We turn’d our backs upon the Stones,
Which had not only tir’d our Hocks;
But ruffl’d my Companions Socks,
Which made him hobble, pick and chuse
His way, as if h’ad Peas in’s Shoes:
But now the Cross-way that we trod

A “Plan for Rendering the Streets more commodious to passengers, by one general
law” (1761), for instance, regulates that “the pavements [be] laid out in the most proper
manner”, “that, for the better information of passengers, the names of the several streets
be wrote up in the corner thereof” or “that, for the more regular lighting, public lamps
be erected at proper distances, upon irons projecting over the pavement” (1761: 369–
Also see Ogborn 1998: 76.
82 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

B’ing smoothly rais’d above the Road,

Our pedestals much more at ease,
And all things mending by degrees (Ward 1724: 29).
As this passage shows, pavements were quite agreeable for pedestrians, as
they did not affect posture or cause pains, but assured a comfortable path.
Given that walking was still the number one means of moving forward –
although the average speed of movement rose with the increasing popular-
ity of coaches – the government, moreover, initiated the building of sepa-
rate driving and walking streets, laying the ground for what we nowadays
call pedestrian zones. Such pedestrian zones also protected walkers from
collisions with the large number of coaches and horses that obstructed
walking (cf. Gatrell 2007: 28) and that often prevented carefree strolls
through the main streets.91 The establishment of pavements and pedestrian
zones, however, had another crucial implication for the activity of walk-
ing: Now, the street did not mean free movement any longer 92, but re-
stricted pedestrians to certain designated areas. As a consequence, streets
needed to be differentiated:

[A]s the urban areas expanded, urban streets themselves became con-
tinually more differentiated in function. The main through route was
demarcated from the social promenade, the shopping mall from the
back street, the smart terrace from the modest alley (Corfield 1990:
148, also see Borsay 1989: 60f.).
The development and improvement of street space was part of a big-
ger process, namely the expansion of the public sphere. Public spaces

As much as there were pedestrian areas, there were also areas especially designed for
coaches, such as in Hyde Park: “In Hide-Parke […], there being a Ring railed in, round
which a gravel way that would admit of twelve if not more rowes of coaches, which the
Gentry to take the aire and see each other comes and drives round and round” (Fiennes
1995 [1701-c.1712]: 225).
Also note that London’s general geographical location could obstruct walking. The
Thames, for instance, was a liquid barrier to walking and some places could only be
reached via water travel, for example the pleasure garden Ranelagh.
2.2. Into the Streets: Walking in Eighteenth-Century London 83

were now exclusively established for perambulation, and not only for
males, as the introductory quote from William’s The Country and the City
suggests. Shopping areas, promenades, squares or parks were now com-
munal open spaces for all Londoners. Particularly public walks, pleasure
gardens and other sites for perambulation that commercialised leisure (e.g.
shopping areas) welcomed people to come and ramble about – regardless
of gender or social status once you were able to afford the cost of entrance
(cf. O'Byrne 2003: 78). As Addison and Steele promote in their periodi-
cals, these organised areas of the city were quite suitable for urban wan-
dering that was, to a great extent, based on the art of urban politeness.
These new ideals of urban politeness are directly linked to urbanisation, as
new forms of polite and sociable behaviour became necessary for inter-
personal communication. The city as a place where one lives to see others
and to be seen by others demanded proper conduct to prevent social inter-
actions from failing on the one hand and to prevent one’s own inappropri-
ate or even embarrassing behaviour and, consequently, bad reputation on
the other (cf. Berensmeyer 2007: 403 f.). As a result, sociability became
an important value of eighteenth-century middle-class morals and stand-
As men become spectators of one another in the city, each begins to
live in the eyes of the world, displaying taste, wit, and talents while
conscious that his performance is observed by others (O'Byrne 2014:
Addison’s and Steele’s periodical The Spectator (1711-1713) played a
crucial role in shaping the art of urban politeness. In daily instalments, the
fictional Mr. Spectator accounts his experiences in London, including so-
cial encounters, curious incidents, topics of current debate, and much
more. Central to The Spectator is the promotion of ideals of polite conduct
and in fact, the periodical became one of the most widely read advice
84 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

manuals for middle-class Londoners. In that way, by employing a fictional

character, The Spectator contributed to the evolvement of rules of norma-
tive behaviour and, as a wider-reaching consequence, also to the construc-
tion of the middle class in eighteenth-century Britain. Sociability, howev-
er, also directly affected appropriate walking behaviour and thus, numera-
ble contemporary publications gave advice for walkers on how to behave
appropriately. John Gay’s Trivia, to be discussed in the following chapter,
is just one such example. The Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, to give
another, printed twelve “Rules of Behaviour, of General Use, though
Much Disregarded in this Populous City” (1780), while in his The London
Adviser and Guide, John Trusler devoted large parts to the rules of walk-
ing (1786), advising, for instance, to “never pass under any goods”, “nev-
er stop in a crowd,” or to “in wet weather look where you step,” etc.
(Trusler 1786: 115). Rules such as Trusler’s contributed to a conception of
walking that was neither entirely unsystematic, arbitrary, nor up to one’s
own will or taste:
If the wall or houses are on your right hand, keep the wall and you
will have no interruption, every one will give way.

Attend to the names of the streets and courts, which are always paint-
ed on a board against the houses, at the corner of each street or court.

Don’t dispute the wall with a cart or carriage.

Never stop in a crowd, or to look at the windows of a print-shop or

People who walk in London should always look before them, both
above and below (Trusler 1786: 115–16).
Such walking advisors aimed at maintaining a sense of order on London’s
streets and were part of a discourse that aimed at using walking and pe-
destrian activities to establish cultural normativity. The walking rules also
2.2. Into the Streets: Walking in Eighteenth-Century London 85

extended to street behaviour in general, so that a certain street-related eti-

quette was gradually built up (but not necessarily adhered to, cf. Corfield
1990: 154). Appropriate street manners included, for instance, refraining
from staring, jostling, pushing, swearing, or excessive drunkenness. De-
sirable street behaviour that represented the values of the middle classes
not only tried to reduce public annoyance, but emphasised that there was a
public “response to urban life” (ibid.) aiming at maintaining order on
London’s streets. Street etiquette and rules for walking, together with new
street regulations for pedestrians and designated public spaces, implied
that the street became increasingly differentiated in function and indeed
did not mean that there was free movement on the pavement for pedestri-
ans anymore. On the contrary, walkers were expected to submit to these
new street regulations that ensured conformity so that, eventually, by the
end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century,
[w]alking the streets has been reduced to a system in London; every
one taking the right hand of another, whereby confusion is avoid-
ed[…]if you cross over to the side you must walk upon the kirb-stone.
The contrary mode is a sure indication of a person being a stranger, or
living at the outskirts of town, and is certain of attracting attention to
his awkwardness, a thing always to be avoided (Bee 1828: 47).

Public Perambulations: Promenades, Pleasure Gardens and the Crowd

For Londoners, public walks were an important leisure activity. In 1700,
Brown explains, “[w]e have divers sorts of Walks about London; in some
you go to see and be seen, in others neither to see nor be seen” (Brown
1927 [1700]: 40). The promenade, for instance, whose high point began
with the opening of St. James’ Park to the public during the Restoration,
was one of these “sorts of walks”: a new social and cultural space that
gave rise to a new form of walking, namely promenading. As defined by
the OED, a promenade is a “leisurely walk, esp. one taken in a public
86 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

place so as to meet or be seen by others” (2014). While promenading de-

notes a specific mode of walking, it also denotes the particular area in
which one could walk, namely the pedestrian promenade. Borsay refers to
the pedestrian promenade as a “purpose-built urban facility to serve
[promenading]” (Borsay 1986: 125). On the pedestrian promenade, men
and women alike strolled about in self-presentation and poise to show off
their wealth, their rank or the latest fashions. The desire for public
acknowledgement and appreciation on the promenade soon became a
competition, with men and women trying to outdo each other. The prome-
nade hence became a public space where especially the middle-class could
“test” if their manners and polite behaviour were indeed enough to claim
to be a member of high society. Sometimes, however, these attempts
seemed foolish and were considered ridiculous, as analyses of Grub Street
writings in chapter 5 show. Being under public scrutiny also put quite
some pressure on people, as it mattered how you looked, how you be-
haved and with whom you strolled about. Samuel Pepys, for instance, al-
ways socially aspiring, was careful when it came to walking in public with
certain company: Having had a meeting with William Coventry, an Eng-
lish statesman accused of corruption, Pepys for example decides to termi-
nate the appointment as soon as entering the promenade in St. James’
Park: “I walked out with him into St. James’s Park, where, being afeard to
be seen with him […] I did take the pretence of my attending the Tangier
Committee, to take my leave” (Pepys: 31st March 1669).
Pleasure gardens, too, were public spaces designed for promenades
and leisurely strolls. An important part of eighteenth-century urban cul-
ture, pleasure gardens like Vauxhall, Ranelagh and Marylebone with their
straight roads and manifold leisure activities such as concerts, fireworks
or the consumption of luxury foods, invited Londoners to conduct their
promenades. There, too, the performativity of walking and the desire to
2.2. Into the Streets: Walking in Eighteenth-Century London 87

see and be seen dominated the walk. The straight design of the areas for
perambulation only reinforced this: Promenading, people found them-
selves in an open, unconfined space where they were on public display
and clearly visible for other promenaders. In a thriving metropolis, pleas-
ure gardens provided the perfect contrast to the swarming and crowded
streets: while urban experiences could be threatening and dangerous,
pleasure gardens embodied “a utopian ideal of the city” (Brand 1991: 39).
An admission fee and certain rules of conduct ideally ensured a well-
behaved clientele and created an enclosed urban space that, with its green
spaces, calmness, quietness and politeness, offered an urban spectacle that
(in theory) was cleared of urban vices like dirt, danger, threat and crime. 93
Therefore, visits to pleasure gardens became a popular leisure activity as
there one could experience “controlled exposure to decorous novelty and
spectacle” (ibid.). Not to forget, pleasure gardens also enjoyed such popu-
larity because they provided “the sort of ambiance of nature94 in what was
becoming an increasingly built-up urbanised London” (King-Dabbs
2009).95 Promenading in parks and pleasure gardens as one specific mode
of walking clearly had become a part of everyday life. The promenade,
however, for the most part excluded the lower classes, as it was mainly
reserved for the thriving middle class. For the middle classes, in turn, it
was not merely a spatial experience in eighteenth-century social, private
and public life, but was also regarded as an intellectual experience and an
expression of publicness (cf. Barrett 2011: 32).

Certainly, pleasure gardens could also be dangerous, as the reading of Evelina in chap-
ter 6.2 shows.
For an interesting overlap of green space, urban space and scientific space, see John
Hill’s periodical The Inspector. Hill conducted investigations of insects in London’s
public gardens, thereby connecting nature, science and the city.
Coke and Borg (2011) as well as Curl (2010) provide a detailed and well-researched
cultural history of London’s pleasure gardens.
88 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

The promenade, however, was not the place for experiencing the city
or seeking the ultimate urban experience. Walkers interested in what the
city had to offer had to go into the streets, there to encounter the crowds
and people of all ranks. Although members of the middle class were the
most frequent Londoners to be out in the streets, the city was a space
where people of all ages, ranks and wealth were forced to mingle and
share public spaces, a feature that Mumford has observed as one of the
vital functions of the modern city: “The great function of the city is to en-
courage and incite the greatest possible number of meetings, encounters,
challenges, between all persons, classes and groups” (Mumford 1961:
173). Indeed, encounters with the crowd were what many visitors to Lon-
don sought:
This passion for crowds is nowhere feasted so full as in London. The
man must have a rare recipe for melancholy, who can be dull in Fleet
Street […] Often when I have felt a weariness or distaste at home,
have I rushed out into her crowded Strand, and fed my humour, till the
tears have wetted my cheek for inutterable sympathies with the multi-
tudinous moving picture, which she never fails to present at all hours
(Lamb 1840: 60).96
The urban multitude, or in the words of Charles Lamb, the “multitudinous
moving picture” ([February 15, 1802] 1975: 306) of the crowd struck
many Londoners and visitors to London with awe. Where Horace Walpole
is amazed at the heterogeneity of the crowd (“The company is universal,
there is his Grace of Grafton down to children out of the Foundling Hospi-

It has to be noted here that that the term “crowd,” whenever used in this study, is syn-
onymous with “street crowd.” The language of crowd description is quite diverse and
historians speak of mobs, gangs, assemblies, processions, audiences, rioters or specta-
tors (cf. Harrison 2002 [1988]: 5f.). Most often, “crowd” is synonymous with “the pro-
testing crowd” or “the rioting crowd.” In this study, however, “the crowd” designates a
surprisingly heterogeneous mass of people on the street where street mongers, gam-
blers, buyers, merchants, prostitutes and people from all ranks and classes literally
move through the city shoulder to shoulder.
2.2. Into the Streets: Walking in Eighteenth-Century London 89

tal,” (Walpole 1840 [1742]: 353), Lydia of Smollett’s The Expedition of

Humphrey Clinker, upon her arrival in London, gapes in disbelief:
I at first imagined, that some great assembly was just dismissed, and
wanted to stand aside till the multitude should pass; but this human
tide continues to flow, without interruption or abatement, from morn
til night (Smollett 1983 [1771]: 87).
The hustle and bustle of eighteenth-century London was also owed to
the streets’ function as the number one channel of communication, as in-
formation circulated amidst these open spaces and fed a vast amount of
people with the latest news. A postal system that relied on the new street
system was now available for everybody, the so-called Penny Post, which
assured the delivery of letters within two hours if a letter was brought to
the post office at 8 o’clock in the morning (cf. Inglis 2014: 22, also see
Whyman 2007: 44). Moreover, the streets provided Londoners with all the
supplies they needed: where before only peripatetic stalls advertised their
products, wares were now sold from permanent stalls in shopping areas.
Londoners thus had the opportunity to run their errands in designated are-
as and therefore could immediately meet their needs. As a consequence,
London was developing into a bustling and thronging metropolis, perfect
for those who strove after the ultimate urban experience:
I don't much care if I never see a mountain in my life. I have passed
all my days in London, until I have formed as many and intense local
attachments as any of you mountaineers can have done with dead Na-
ture. The lighted shops of the Strand and Fleet Street; the innumerable
trades, tradesmen, and customers, coaches, waggons, playhouses; all
the bustle and wickedness round about Covent Garden; the very wom-
en of the Town; the watchmen, drunken scenes, rattles; life awake, if
you awake, at all hours of the night; the impossibility of being dull in
Fleet Street; the crowds, the very dirt and mud, the sun shining upon
houses and pavements, the print shops, the old bookstalls, parsons
cheapening books, coffee-houses, steams of soups from kitchens, the
pantomimes - all these things work themselves into my mind, and feed
90 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

me, without a power of satiating me. The wonder of these sights im-
pels me into night-walks about her crowded streets, and I often shed
tears in the motley Strand from fulness of joy at so much life. All
these emotions must be strange to you; so are your rural emotions to
me (Lamb 1975 [1801]: 248).
Lamb, addressing Wordsworth in this famous passage, clearly favours the
urban over the rural experience. The street, as Lamb’s description shows,
holds such an interest for the walker because it is a pluralistic, social, cul-
tural, political and economic space, “ambiguous, ever changing, interac-
tive, full of complexities and contradictions, and with diverse meaning for
all” (Mehta 2013: 2). Needless to say, London’s urban growth had its
downsides, too. Prominent themes in literature from that time, for in-
stance, are dirt, stench and pollution. Although the pavement was smooth-
er and measures were taken to keep the streets clean, London’s open spac-
es were filthy. It is important to note, however, that although street dirt
was regarded as inconvenient, contemporaries also saw it as an inevitable
side effect of the city’s prosperity. Mandeville, for example, declares that
“dirty streets are a necessary Evil inseparable from the Felicity of Lon-
don” (Mandeville 1970 [1714]: 57).

London Walkers
I use the term “London walkers” to describe the protagonists of the texts
to be analysed in Part II. As it is clear by now that these protagonists ex-
perience London via walking through it, it has yet to be clarified what
characterises these London walkers and what differentiates them from
those that merely use walking as a means of moving about. Essentially,
for the London walkers, walking through the streets of London triggers
experiences of the city and its inhabitants; these experiences always have
to be understood in relation to the walkers’ own subjective perceptions of
the city. Edward Ward, one of the authors to be discussed in Part II, com-
2.2. Into the Streets: Walking in Eighteenth-Century London 91

pares the city with “the best living library, to instruct you to read man-
kind, that ever you met with” (Ward 1700: 9). Here, Ward makes a con-
nection between walking and reading the city, anticipating de Certau’s
concept of the city as urban text that has to be read by means of walking
through it. In the texts to be analysed in Part II, the London walkers create
their own urban texts, weaving fragments of the city together in a unique
and subjective way, as every walker offers a different perspective on life
in eighteenth-century London.
Each encounter with the street demands individual adjustment and
affects the London walkers’ perception of and movement through the city.
Because of the immediacy of the city, the walkers’ urban experiences are
enhanced: immersed in the streets, the proximity to the crowd and sensory
experiences are particularly intense. Walking, therefore, involves the en-
tire body (see also Bannon 2013: 39f., Tilley 2008), and makes walking a
corporeal movement. In The Production of Space, Lefebvre similarly ar-
gues that
when ‘Ego’ arrives in an unknown country or city, he first experiences
it through every part of his body – through his senses of smell and
taste, as […] through his legs and feet. His hearing picks up the nois-
es, and the quality of the voices; his eyes are assailed by new impres-
sions. For it is by means of the body that space is perceived, lived –
and produced (Lefebvre 1991 [1974]: 162).
“Ego”, in the context of this study, denominates the London walkers, re-
gardless of whether they are visitors to or inhabitants of London. For the
London walkers, the body is an important requisite for perceiving space,
and, as a consequence, the barriers between space and body collapse (cf.
Colombino 2013: 14). But what does walking as embodied practice im-
ply? Drawn upon a definition by Gibbs, I understand embodiment as “the
dynamical interaction between the brain, the body, and the physi-
cal/cultural environment” (Gibbs 2005: 66–67). Mind, body and environ-
92 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

ment, therefore, become a syndicate through which the city is made sense
of. Embodiment as the interplay of mind, body and city provides the con-
nection to psychogeography, where the corporeal movement through ur-
ban space collides with the London walkers’ minds:
Walking allows one to really understand an area. Psychogeography
changes from street to street and this can only be felt on foot […] the
atmosphere on a road or area is made up of hundreds of factors and
details which make up a local environment and moving through this
space in a car or bus lessens one’s sensitivities to senses which pick
up on atmosphere (Middleton 2010: 582).
Walking grants experiences of the city that other modes of transportation
fail to provide. In other words: eighteenth-century hackney coaches that
opted for uninterrupted and swift transportation failed at confronting peo-
ple with the city. Only the pedestrian on foot is able to pick up on a “sense
of place,” of atmospheres underlying the city or certain areas of the latter.
In the texts selected for this study, the “sense of place” is highly subjec-
tive and determined by the London walkers’ mood, their personal memo-
ries or their social rank. Such unique atmospheres influence the London
walkers’ dérive, namely their undetermined route through the city that
passes “through varied ambiances” and during which the walkers let
themselves be drawn by “the attractions of the terrain and the encounters
[they] find there” (Debord 2006 [1958]: 120).
Walking determines both starting and end point for each text, a
framework that structures the text and tolerates narrative digressions
(compare, for instance, The Peripatetic in chapter 3.2). In addition, walk-
ing positions the London walkers within the city and provides them with
the ability to perceive and experience urban space. The London walkers
are actively engaged with the city and their urban surroundings, seeking –
to different extents – encounters with other Londoners and are curious to
experience the city. In their experiences of London, the walkers take a
2.2. Into the Streets: Walking in Eighteenth-Century London 93

particular, partly ambiguous position within the city. Being situated at

street level, they are deeply immersed in the cityscape while at the same
time they occupy a slightly detached position: Striving to perceive the city
in all its facets, one of the walkers’ pursuits is to observe. Similar to Addi-
son’s and Steele’s fictional Mr. Spectator, the London walkers thus expe-
rience the city “rather as a Spectator of Mankind, than as one of the Spe-
cies” (Addison 1711). In other words, the London walkers never blend
into the masses themselves, but maintain their detached position by re-
maining spectators – even when they physically find themselves amidst
the throngs. This combination of spectating cum experiencing lends the
London walkers a position of authority: observing the spectacles around
them, including those that consume these spectacles, namely Londoners
(or London visitors), the London walkers’ gaze locks such spectacles in a
position as objects. As a consequence, the London walkers occupy a
somewhat superior position within the urban crowds (Scholz 2005: 107)
that implies the objectification of others.
The countless number of walking narratives from the period, to
which the texts of this study belong, is evidence for the significance of
walking during that time (cf. O'Byrne 2003: 3f.). As a social and cultural
activity, walking was not only a trend that authors picked up on, but also
something that allowed writers to address contemporary issues and to
raise questions relating to “morality, luxury, class, politeness, gender, so-
cial mobility, and personal safety” (ibid.). Generally, walking narratives
certainly also served as pieces of information for Londoners, visitors to
London or those who did not have the possibility to experience the city
themselves. The narratives thereby fed the interest in the English capital
that rose simultaneously with the city’s growth, in that way contributing to
a general idea of the city while also informing urban knowledge. But what
were the reasons for the emergence of these narratives? As suggested be-
94 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

fore, walking fundamentally organises a text. With innumerable things to

describe in the city, walking narratives use pedestrian perambulation to
structure and to give coherence to a text. With walking as a framework
and as a connection between fragments, the urban experiences described
in the texts are not merely strung together as a pattern of single percep-
tions, but are constructed as coherent textual compositions. Having Lon-
don walkers as agencies which provide psychogeographical experiences
of the city for the reader, the texts of this study stand in stark contrast to
other forms of urban literature, for example seventeenth- and eighteenth-
century topographical poetry that describes landscapes from a distant
viewpoint, creating a static image of the lyrical I’s surroundings, surveys
of London like Stowe’s eponymous work that presents London as fixed
and frozen in time, or periodicals like The Spectator with a journalistic
approach to presenting the city. Instead, the texts of this study can and
need to be distinguished from these other forms of urban literature in that
the walkers trace the physical and psychological patterns of London by
moving through the city on foot, thereby creating dynamic, subjective and
imaginary representations of eighteenth-century London.
To conclude, walking in eighteenth-century London took on various
forms and shapes. As has been shown in this chapter, walking was a cul-
tural practice that was given a lot of thought. The changing attitude to-
wards walking certainly had to do with the fact that by the turn of the
eighteenth century, alternative means of transportation were generally
available and people deliberately decided in favour of, or against, walk-
ing. First and foremost, walking established cultural normativity. In an
ever-expanding city, pedestrian zones, separate driveways, elevated
pavements and walking rules aimed at establishing norms and maintaining
order. As a form of sociability, walking often also had a performative di-
mension to it. The promenade and the pleasure garden as specific forms of
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 95

walking became an important part of everyday life in the eighteenth cen-

tury. Remember that walking was still the number one means of moving
about the city, thereby generally constituting a necessary part of everyday
life that became increasingly structured. It has to be kept in mind, howev-
er, that the city to some extent also assumed mobility, as London in its
entirety was only accessible to those who walked in it. Coach or water
travel only covered a limited area of London, whereas pedestrian move-
ment could grant access to London’s narrow side streets and hidden cor-
ners, its pedestrian areas, its shops or the interior of theatres, coffee hous-
es, taverns, etc. In short, walking made the city available and made sense
of a city that needed to be explained, presented, revealed, discussed, and

2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experi-

ence to Text

From the first word we write [...] we are defining, delineating,

the world that is coming into being.

Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination

Writing is the bridge that connects the practice of psychogeography with

literary psychogeography. The following pages, therefore, are dedicated to
presenting predominant characteristics of psychogeographical ideas that
can be traced in the texts selected for this study. All of these characteris-
tics, with their own means, facilitate and support the subjectivity of urban
experiences and play their part in creating an urban imaginary of eight-
eenth-century London. A systematic outline of these characteristics there-
fore functions as a guide to comprehending the textual analyses in Part II.
96 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

The characteristics cover both story and discourse level and can thus be
divided into two main categories: themes and formal elements of literary
psychogeography. While there is no text that exhibits all of the character-
istics at the same time, each text sets different emphases and works ac-
cording to certain dynamics. All of them, however, share a threefold
common ground: they are all set in eighteenth-century London, a London
walker is the agency through which the city is perceived, and they all cre-
ate a highly subjective urban imaginary. Unlike maps or tourist guides,
which certainly are also not entirely objective, the degree of subjectivity
in the texts I have chosen is particularly high, as in each text, the percep-
tion of the city is tied to a particular time, place and state of mind.

2.3.1. Experiencing the City: Themes in Literary Psychogeography

Blends of Fact and Fiction

Any literary representation of eighteenth-century London becomes an ur-
ban imaginary as soon as the first word about the city meets a blank page.
I have explained in detail how literary representations of cities are posi-
tioned towards their counterpart in the real world and that literary psycho-
geography is particularly intense when it comes to the grade of subjectivi-
ty in its accounts of the city. In literary psychogeography, therefore, “the
topography of the city is refashioned through the imaginative force of the
writer” (Coverley 2010: 16) and the texts become a blend of fact and fic-
tion, a space that oscillates in-between the real world and the world as it is
perceived by an individual. The writer or narrator, respectively,
structures reality according to a 'wandering viewpoint', but important-
ly he or she is not merely a neutral recorder, along the lines of Isher-
wood's "I am a camera", but a participant whose individual experience
shapes the writing in an almost romantic fusion of subjectivity and ob-
jectivity (Berensmeyer and Löffler forthcoming).
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 97

The objectivity of literary psychogeography manifests itself in topograph-

ical references to the real-world referent city, references that tell the read-
er where the walker is physically situated within the city. These references
provide the reader with the ability to mentally situate himself/herself with-
in the city and to engage with someone else’s experiences within that
space. The layer of subjectivity is brought in as soon as the individual en-
riches the objective, topographical references with personal descriptions
dependent on his mood, state of mind, or other external factors. The blend
of fact and fiction in eighteenth-century literary psychogeography is not,
however, designed to challenge the reader to break down the text into its
respective factual and fictional parts. Quite the contrary, eighteenth-
century writers deliberately create subjective visions of London, each
functioning in its own particular way. As we will see later on, for instance,
Ned Ward’s London Spy creates a supremely satirical vision of London,
whilst Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year creates the vision of a
past London through the eyes of the present.97 In each case, by careful
configuration of real and imagined pieces of the city, the London imagi-
nary is consciously designed. The reasons behind this vary, of course, and
is uncovered for each individual text in the analytical chapters, but above
all stands the desire to promote “the personal and subjective in opposition
to the prevailing mechanised and systematic modes of thought” (Coverley
2010: 17). Hence, the priority of the texts is to reveal the interrelation be-
tween subject and urban surroundings and not to provide an objective
guide or “how-best-to-explore-London” manual.

In order to avoid confusion, I do not use the term “visionary tradition” here, as does
Coverley in his book Psychogeography, where he dedicates one chapter to “London
and the Visionary Tradition.” The term “Visionary Tradition” or “Visionary Poetry” is
often used in the context of Romantic writers such as Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth or
Shelley to describe the awakening of Romantic idealism (for more see Watkins 2012,
especially chapter 1).
98 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

In order to provide these subjectivised visions of eighteenth-

century London, the walkers surrender themselves to what Bachelard and
contemporary psychogeographers have termed “alert reverie,” a state of
“double-presence that is both in the here and now and in the imagination”
(O'Rourke 2013: 25). Although Bachelard understands alert reverie as an
oneiric activity (Bachelard 1971 [1960]), thereby placing the concept into
the context of dream studies, the mode in which an urban imaginary is
created in literary psychogeography is undeniably an allusion to this con-
cept. Alert reverie in literary psychogeography is like a state of daydream-
ing in which the city plays freely upon the walker’s imagination. In alert
reverie, the walker’s focus is on the city and what the city has to offer
him, while he is shielded against any distraction that might steer his atten-
tiveness away from his urban surroundings. It puts the walker in a particu-
lar state of mind and triggers a form of amorphous, associative thinking “a
drift from the […] rational to the extraordinary and revolutionary” (Sadler
1998: 76). This state of mind stands in direct connection to the undeter-
mined, improvisational quality of walking in literary psychogeography, as
it is this kind of walking which triggers this state of mind and in doing so
enables psychogeographical experiences of the city:
This kind of unstructured, associative thinking is the kind most often
connected to walking, and it suggests walking as not an analytical but
an improvisational act (Solnit 2002 [2001]: 21).
Recalling the undetermined route of the dérive with its aimless stroll, the
mind, just as the body, reacts spontaneously on the spur of the moment. It
is within the walk, then, that the state of double presence in the present
and in the imagination is initiated, and in this way that the walker allows
“the fiction of an underlying pattern to assert itself” (Sinclair 2003 [1997]:
4), creating different zones of ambiances with the help of his imagination.
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 99

Sense of Place
The walkers in the texts of this study are not only interested in the city as
such, but also in its larger affective terrains. In literary psychogeography,
the city is conceived as “a landscape of atmospheres and affects […] mir-
roring the subject's psychophysical states rather than its outer appearance"
(Colombino 2013: 22). This resonates with the Situationists’ central idea
of the construction of ambiances, ensembles of impressions that determine
a moment (cf. Debord 2006 [1957]: 75). It is thus that for each individual
walker the city becomes divided into psychic atmospheres. These are in-
fluenced by the individual’s mood (also see Botton 2002: 246) and mind-
set, resulting in a very personal relationship to the city that can hardly be
Triggered by the clash of the external and internal environment, in
other words by the fusion of objectivity and subjectivity, ambiances, or
atmospheres constitute a certain sense of place. While engaging with liter-
ary psychogeography, the reader is confronted with a sense of place that
emerges from the text and sets the tone for the urban imaginary that is to
be created. Although Coverley uses the term “sense of place” inter-
changeably with genius loci, I prefer to be careful generalising the concept
of genius loci with regard to atmospheres radiating from certain places.
While the Oxford English Dictionary defines genius loci as “the essential
character or atmosphere of a place” (2014)98, it is important to stress that
genius loci is commonly understood as a sense of place that is collectively
felt. Yet in the texts of this study, the sense of place denotes the atmos-
phere and aura of a place which is individually felt, and thereby becomes a
The OED also gives the definition of genius loci as “a guardian spirit or god associated
with a place” (2014). In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English architecture, key-
stones were often integrated as sculptural ornaments in architecture, in many cases in
the form of a god or spirit – genius loci – which was to protect, guard or symbolise the
respective building.
100 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

construct in which individual knowledge, memories, perception and inter-

pretation fuse to become a subjective interpretation of a place. This sub-
jective interpretation of a place, so argues Turchi, is much more important
than the objective facts of a city (cf. Turchi 2004: 28). Here, the contribu-
tion of psychogeography to the understanding of cities becomes visible,
because it “seeks to overcome the processes of ‘banalisation’ by which the
everyday experience of our surroundings becomes one of drab monotony”
(Coverley 2010: 13). Literary psychogeography draws attention to the city
as a site of individual experiences that are anything but repetitious, rather
than to the city as a prescribed reality or what Lefebvre would call
l’espace concu. That is not to say, however, that a text is restricted to cre-
ating only one such sense of place; indeed it would be quite wrong to ar-
gue that each text creates but one ambiance. Rather, the city
explodes into dispersed, open and loosely connected areas; each one
corresponding to the emotional response it generates while together
they compound the varied haptic and emotive terrain traversed by the
psychogeographer (Colombino 2013: 16).
The London walker, while moving through the city, can traverse a number
of different psychic zones. The atmospheres in these zones are both sub-
ject to change and subject to chance, and can evaporate as quickly as they
have come along:
when you do these walks, you’ll share this experience: things are
available once and once only, that is the only time the door is open.
You slip in, you see something, it’s gone (Self and Sinclair 2008).
The reason why ambiances are often only available once and once only is
because the walker’s mindset is strongly influenced by an array of exter-
nal and internal factors which are in constant exchange with each other. In
order to fully comprehend the origin and nature of a sense of place in lit-
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 101

erary psychogeography, Part II pinpoints the walkers’ mindsets for each

single text. Nonetheless, it can generally be said that
[t]he chief characteristic of this mindset is a heightened receptivity to
our [inner and outer] surroundings, in which we treat new (and famil-
iar) places with humility, withholding our habituated responses in fa-
vour of a willingness to see things afresh (Coverley 2012: 65).
Furthermore, what is specific to the sense of place emerging from the
texts of this study is that it often reflects the process of urbanisation that
was going on during that time. London’s transformation into a metropolis
was fuelled by many innovations and many new changes in cultural dy-
namics. Urbanisation, therefore, and its positive and negative consequenc-
es played a great part in shaping individuals’ sense of place of the city.
That is yet another reason for the thriving of London texts during the time:
People’s sense of place of the new London was quite different from their
previous impressions of and reactions to the city, and they saw a need to
identify and come to terms with their newly urbanised surroundings. The
literary analyses in Part II examine the sense of place inherent in the se-
lected texts, and uncover individual stories and very personal relationships
to urban space that make the city a vivid landscape of atmospheres and

Dark Visions of the City: Poverty, Crime and Biblical Analogies of London
A recurring theme in eighteenth-century literary psychogeography is the
depiction of the city as a place of dark imaginings. Experiences with natu-
ral disasters, such as the plague of 1665, as well as eighteenth-century
processes of urbanisation and the technological innovations it entailed
generated uncertainty and anxiety among people. Such fears of pending
epidemics or other menaces saw a rise in literary musings and imaginings
concerning the dark sides of the city:
102 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

This sense of urban life as […] mysterious and unknowable immedi-

ately lends itself to gothic representations of the city and hence the lit-
erary tradition of London writing that acts as a precursor to psychoge-
ography […] paints a […] dark picture of the city as the site of crime,
poverty and death. Indeed, crime and lowlife in general remain a
hallmark of psychogeographical investigation and the revival of psy-
chogeography in recent years is supported by a similar resurgence of
gothic forms (Coverley 2010: 13).
By “gothic,” Coverley in this context means a depiction of the city that is
fed with dark imagery, exposing grim and gloomy layers hidden under-
neath “the banal surfaces of the everyday city” (Coverley 2010: 45).99
Dark imagery in eighteenth-century literary psychogeography comes in
multiple forms. While Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, for instance,
depicts apocalyptic scenery of London during the Great Plague (Chapter
4), Thomas Brown’s and Ned Ward’s satires shed a lighter, even comical,
look at crime and poverty in London (Chapter 5).100 In total, so I argue,
there are four different strands of dark imaginings of the city in eight-
eenth-century psychogeographical writings about London: crime and pov-
erty, fear of natural disasters, an exploration of marginal areas and reli-
gious forebodings.
While wandering through the city, the London walkers cannot
avoid encounters with the marginalised or dispossessed, or those who
have fallen off the edge of society. Eighteenth-century London had to deal
with the usual “urban problems of overcrowding, disease, crime and pov-

Prime examples of contemporary Gothic Psychogeography would be many of Peter
Ackroyd’s novels, first and foremost Hawksmoor. For a detailed discussion about the
Gothic in Hawksmoor see Ashford’s essay “The Mechanics of the Occult: London’s
Psychogeographical Fiction as a Key to Understanding the Roots of the Gothic” (2013
For a discussion about contemporary literary psychogeography and apocalypse, see
Kent Chapin Ross’s dissertation on Developing a Method of Literary Psychogeography
in Postmodern Fictions of Detection: Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy and Martin
Amis’s London Fields (2013).
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 103

erty, isolation and alienation” (Buchholz and Ward 2012: 3), and so, beg-
gars, thieves, pickpockets, trickster figures or prostitutes, to name but a
few, are recurrent figures in eighteenth-century literary psychogeography.
While some London walkers accept these figures as givens in any urban-
ised space, others simply cannot come to terms with them and react to
them accordingly. This stems from an eighteenth-century classification of
the poor into two types: the deserving poor, able-bodied men and women
who refuse to work, and the impotent poor, who are unable to work and
cannot be blamed for their living conditions (ibid. 227). In a city where
there as yet was no police force – there would not be an organised police
force until 1829 – and no safety net for those at the margins101, poverty
and crime went hand in hand. As a consequence, “Londoners associated
street people with crime, conning and loose living” (ibid. 242), and this
becomes apparent in writings from that time. In dealing with poverty,
texts from that period also made a significant contribution to the creation
of stereotypes connected with the poor. As I outline in chapter 3, particu-
larly Gay’s Trivia had a major impact on the literary presentation of the
urban poor and literature’s contribution to the categorisation of the poor
and the reinforcement of stereotypes.
Dark imaginings of the city also included a fear of epidemics and
natural catastrophes. Defoe’s Journal, to be discussed in chapter 4, recalls
the year of the plague that struck London in 1665 and vividly depicts the
horrors it brought with it. Ever since the Great Plague and other European
outbreaks of the epidemic, the fear of other catastrophes of a similar kind
was something that occupied the English, as multiple publications on the

Although there were workhouses the poor could resort to, a placement in a workhouse
was not a desirable option, as conditions there were bad and inhuman.
104 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

plague or on how to prevent further outbreaks show.102 Epidemics, fires or

natural disasters raging in England and all over Europe did not only trig-
ger fear and anxiety, however. Disasters, especially when the English
were not immediately affected, also excited curiosity and a craving for
sensation. As a result, there was a common interest to learn more about
such catastrophes and an interest in what horrors befell other European
countries, as titles like An Account of the Plague Which Raged at Moscow,
in 1771 (1799), An Account of the Earthquake which Destroyed the City
of Lisbon (1756) or An Historical Account Of the Plague, And Other Pes-
tilential Distempers Which Have Appear'd In Europe, But More Especial-
ly in this Kingdom (1743) suggest. On a national level, the desire to learn
about and understand natural disasters is reflected in titles such as The
City Remembrancer: Being Historical Narratives of the Great Plague at
London, 1665; Great fire, 1666; and Great storm, 1703 (1769) or A Trea-
tise on the Plague and Pestilential Fevers, with Some Useful Hints, for the
Better Prevention and Cure (1769).
The fear of disaster and catastrophe also involved a deeper, reli-
gious sentiment that, too, is particularly palpable in Defoe's account of the
Great Plague. Since its early days, there have been continual analogies of
London with ancient and biblical civilisations (Ackroyd 2001: 579).103
Although an exploration of London’s biblical analogies is something
which cannot be discussed at full length here104, conceptions of London as
Babylon and the New Jerusalem are sketched here, as religious undertones
can be commonly found in eighteenth-century texts about the city. Baby-

For example Dr. Nathaniel Hodge’s Loimologia, or, an historical Account of the
Plague in London in 1665, With precautionary Directions against the like Contagion
(1720), which was published in England when the plague befell Marseilles in France
and the English were fearful of another outbreak of the break in England.
Those analogies include, for instance, Rome, Pompeii and Jerusalem.
See, instead, Gange/Ledger-Lomas (2013), Tinkler-Villani (2005), Warren (2011).
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 105

lon had always been the antithesis to Jerusalem. As the city of sin, moral
decay, corruption and paganism, Babylon stood in stark contrast to the
heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God. Corresponding with a prophesy in
the Book of Revelation that Babylon was awaiting divine destruction, a
fear of London’s impending doom ignited apocalyptic thought. Apocalyp-
tic thought had existed in England for a long time (cf. Laborie: 3f.), but
with political upheaval from the mid-seventeenth century onwards, apoca-
lyptic writings increased dramatically, with over 200 works published be-
tween 1640 and 1659 (cf. ibid. 14). As a result, many believed “that the
world was in its latter days” (ibid. 3) and Quakers, astrologers or other
visionaries announcing the end of the world were numerous. In some cir-
cles, London was thus perceived of as Babylon, as “venal pagan land”
(Korshin 2014: 97) that awaited God’s judgement. It is no surprise then,
that the dreadful years of 1665 and 1666 were understood as God’s retri-
bution and as an apocalyptic warning. Accordingly, a pamphlet titled
God’s Judgments Still Threatned [sic.] Against Thee, O England (1666)
looks on London as “a Figure of the downfall of Babylon” (Roe 1666: 1)
and proclaims:
then did the Lord bring that great Plague upon that great City, which
did destroy near One hundred thousand persons; yet for all this they
repented not of the evil of their ways, but still provoked the Lord to
Anger with their Abomination, for which cause God’s anger was not
abated, but his indignation burned hotter and hotter against that great
City which had so long provoked the Lord to anger with their great
abominations (Roe 1666: 4).
The link between plague, fire and divine judgement as well as with Lon-
don as Babylon, as exemplified in the passage above, was frequently
made in that period. Generally, the notion of London as Babylon in con-
nection with post-plague and post-fire London essentially bears upon the
city’s corruption and moral downfall which increased exponentially with
106 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

London’s urbanisation after the 1666105 Defoe’s Journal of the Plague

Year shows a particular concern with the plague as the ultimate judgement
connected to London’s moral decay, a notion which is examined more
closely in chapter 4. London as city of divine destruction, however, is also
inextricably linked to the belief in London as the New Jerusalem.106 This
belief was rooted in millenarian speculations, as “the millennium was
commonly typified as the period of the New Jerusalem corresponding
with the description of the city as descending from heaven” (Johnston
2011: 39). In the Book of revelation, John prophesies “a new heaven and a
new earth for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” and
sees “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heav-
en” (Book of Revelation 21.1). In the English, the New Jerusalem de-
scending from heaven as foreboded in Revelation ignited the conviction of
London as God’s chosen city and as the centre of the world. As a result,
millenarian predictions announcing London as the New Jerusalem, a city
rising from the ashes, were countless, including Dryden’s famous lines
from Annus Mirabilis:
Methinks already from this chymic flame
I see a city of more precious mould,
Rich as the town which gives the Indies name,
With silver paved and all divine with gold (Dryden 1667: 1).107

It should be noted, however, that another connotation of London as Babylon comprises
the notion of “a city loud with many disparate and unintelligible voices” (Ackroyd
576). As a consequence, to name London as Babylon could also imply allusions “to its
essential multiplicity” (ibid.).
Also compare the doctrine of British Israelism, a doctrine which understands the British
as ancestors of the Ancient Israelites. According to the doctrine, London, as capital of
Great Britain, is believed to be remodelled as the New Jerusalem.
For the most prominent example of London as the New Jerusalem see William Blake’s
prophetic books, particularly Milton (1804-1810) and Jerusalem: The Emanation of the
Giant Albion (1804-1820).
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 107

The notions of London as a corrupt, commercial, profane Babylon on the

one hand and as heavenly, God-chosen and magnificent New Jerusalem
on the other, resonate time and again from representations of eighteenth-
century London and in some cases prove to be the key to understanding
their visionary and religious quality. While, as chapter 4 shows, Defoe’s
literary account of the plague years is particularly characterised by the
idea of London as a Babylonian city of corruption and moral decay, eight-
eenth-century apocalyptic convictions in general also account for the large
number of Quakers, preachers, astrologers and other public visionary fig-
ures to be encountered on the streets of eighteenth-century London.108
Overall, dark imagery in connection with literary representations
of eighteenth-century London is rooted within contemporary fears, anxie-
ties, curiosity, beliefs and superstitions, concepts that are related to Lon-
don’s rapid urbanisation. They in turn reveal a dark side of the city that is
characterised by poverty, crime, corruption, moral decay and apocalyptic
thought. As the analyses in Part II demonstrate, this dark imagery is a re-
curring theme of psychogeographical writings, whereby each text deals
with the dark side of the city in its own particular way.

Multi-Sensory Experiences
Together with stenches and smells of all sorts, sounds and noises domi-
nated life in eighteenth-century London. In his essay “The Right to the
City,” Henri Lefebvre states that in order to understand the city, urbanites
should not only rely on sight, but need “to hear, to touch, to taste and […]
gather these perceptions in a world” (Lefebvre 1996: 147). If one were to
create a hierarchy of the senses, sight would probably instinctively be at

Not to forget, the high number of biblical and religious analogies should also be under-
stood as a means to promote Christian knowledge in a society where religious differ-
ences and continuous religious wars divided the nation.
108 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

the top. But, as Lefebvre rightfully argues, the other four senses play an
equally important role when it comes to experiencing the city. At least
since Alain Corbin’s ground-breaking studies The Foul and the Fragrant:
Odor and the French Social Imagination (1986) and Sound and Meaning
in the Village Bells (1998), sensory experiences or the study of
“sensescapes” has become an increased field of research for scholars
across disciplines. Urban experience is far from restricted to what the eye
can see; instead, it involves an all-encompassing sensual perception, mak-
ing everyday life in the city a multi-sensual and multi-dimensional experi-
ence (cf. Rodaway 1994: 4). Studying urban experiences, sight, therefore,
needs to be complemented by the other senses, because “sight paints a
picture of life, but sound, touch, taste and smell are actually life itself”
(Sullivan and Gill 1975: 181). Because the London walkers’ aim is con-
sciously exploring the city, the senses are not in the least passive. Instead,
each sense functions as a medium of perception, which makes all five of
them actively involved in structuring experiences of and contributing to
orientation in urban space. In other words, via the channel of the senses,
the city becomes legible.
Along with an increasing academic interest in the senses, in recent
years a number of urban practices devoted to sensory experiences have
become increasingly popular. “Sensory walks,” for instance, have
emerged as a form of psychogeography which aims at investigating senso-
ry perceptions and their influence on individuals walking through urban
environments.109 The sense most often addressed in the context of sensory
walks has been smell. On smell walks, an increasingly popular (guided)
activity in cities, people are strolling through the city with their noses as
only guides. Victoria Henshaw, for instance, “town planner turned odour

Yet again, London is at the centre of psychogeographical sensory walks.
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 109

advocate” (Wainwright 2014) and editor of the blog Smell and the City,
organises regular smell walks which give people the opportunity to expe-
rience familiar urban surroundings from an entirely different perspective:
On Piccadilly, we pass through a sickly sweet cloud emanating from a
chocolate shop, followed by a spicy whiff from a noodle bar. We poke
our noses into a newsagent, for that familiar cocktail of chewing gum
and newsprint, and into an antiquarian bookseller for the comforting
musty guff of old paper and leather binding. We emerge on to Regent
Street and hit a wall of old ladies’ perfume, continental cigarettes, and
the unmistakable floral miasma drifting across the road from a branch
of Lush (Wainwright 2014).110
While contemporary smell walks are aimed above all at unveiling neglect-
ed and often underestimated qualities of the city, in the early modern peri-
od and eighteenth century, smells had another very important function,
namely to help orientation. Although the names remain until today, back
then the street names of Coriander Avenue, Nutmeg Lane, Clove Crescent
or Rosemary Drive still meant something more: all located in the East In-
dia Docks, they were indicators as to where which spices were to be de-
livered, stored, or sold. Senses, therefore, played a key role in structuring
everyday life. Thus, in a study about urban experience it is essential to
incorporate all five bodily senses.111 Although “sense walks” or
“smell/sound walks” are often deemed a contemporary phenomenon,
walks of this kind can also be found in the texts of this study. The legibil-
ity of the city as enhanced by the senses, for example, is a quite prominent
theme in Gay’s Trivia. To get an idea of how the walker is able to inter-
pret sensory perceptions, the following passage demonstrates how sound
and smell can be read as signs of impending weather change:

See also Weihser 2012, Henshaw 2014.
The five senses traditionally recognised in Western thought are sight, smell, sound,
taste and touch. Other, not conventionally recognised, senses include, for instance, bal-
ance, temperature, pain, or kinaesthesia.
110 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

Then Niobe dissolves into a Tear,

And sweats with secret grief; you’ll hear the Sounds
Of whistling Winds, e’er Kennels break their Bounds;
Ungrateful Odours Common-shores diffuse,
And dropping Vaults distil unwholesome Dews,
e’er the Tiles rattle with the smoaking Show’r,
And spouts on heedless Men their Torrents pour. (Trivia 168-174)
In this passage, the walker describes the sounds and smells that accompa-
ny rain and storm. This sensual knowledge contributes to orientation in
the city, as the walker makes clear that under the circumstances, it may be
best to keep a distance from drainpipes and overflowing gutters.
The eighteenth century offers a particularly fertile context for the
study of the senses (cf. Reinarz and Schwarz 2012: 1):
[I]n the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the senses informed the
emergence of social classes, race and gender conventions, industriali-
zation, urbanization, colonialism, imperialism, nationalism, ideas con-
cerning selfhood and ‘other,’ to list the most obvious developments
typically associated with the ‘modern’ era (Smith 2007: 1).
As Smith states in the introduction to his book Sensory History, senses,
especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were not only
linked to everyday experiences, but to a great extent constituted norms
and values of society as well. Although this certainly still holds true for
today, it was ever the more intense in the eighteenth century, especially in
expanding cities. As we will see in the literary analyses in later chapters, it
is quite conventional that certain areas were connected to certain sensory
experiences, most prominently smells or sounds.112 Auditory and olfactory
connotations not only shaped particular geographical areas, establishing
geographical reputations or prejudices, but also reflected back on the peo-
ple dwelling there. Hence, smells and sounds often constituted cultural

As the London walkers usually do not mingle with the crowd, gustatory and haptic
references are hardly made.
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 111

meaning that was “contextual, local, and elusive” (Brant 2004: 445). Such
conventionally accepted notions of geographical areas are connected to
the space-inherent sense of place I have discussed earlier, as culturally
recognised sensorial patterns have the power to shape and manipulate a
commonly accepted sense of place of specific areas. Associated with vile
stenches, stenches that were immediately connected to poverty, absence of
hygiene or even crime; the East End of London, for example, became (and
still remains) a cultural construct that renders this London area among the
most disliked and unpopular boroughs of London.113
A common feature of eighteenth-century literary psychogeogra-
phy is an active and individual engagement with the senses, a meeting of
mind, body and sensory environment. Often, the majority of sensory expe-
riences are so commonplace as to pass unrecorded (cf. Cowan and Stew-
ard 2007: 4), but in eighteenth-century literary psychogeography, the
walkers deliberately let multi-sensory experiences affect and influence
their perception of urban space. Because the texts contain many references
to individually perceived smells, sounds and sight, the reader not only re-
ceives information about a sensory dimension of the topographical envi-
ronment but also witnesses how these sensory experiences influence the
walker’s perception of the city. What is of most interest in this study,
therefore, is to examine how intensifications of certain senses at certain
times mediate, influence or interrupt the walking experiences of individu-
als (cf. Middleton 2010: 577). Being immersed in the streets as a pedestri-
an intensified the London walkers’ individual sensual perceptions, and the
heterogeneous crowd, the pitter-patter of shoes and hooves, the rattling of
coaches, the cries of street-vendors or church bells created a noise level
that was not to everyone’s taste. Hogarth’s print The Enraged Musician
For a highly interesting account of the cultural construction of London’s East End, see
Newland 2008.
112 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

(1741), for example, depicts a professional musician inside his study,

who, during his rehearsal, is distressed by the noise outside his window.
The scene contains different kinds of noisy activities whose involuntary
ensemble playing produces a cacophony of street noise that is not neces-
sarily revolting; on the contrary, the engraving reverses the hierarchy of
sound and elevates street noise above music, and Charles Lamb, for ex-
ample, claims: “I take refuge in the unpretending assemblage of honest
common-life sounds; - and the purgatory of the Enraged Musician be-
comes my paradise” (Lamb 1903 [1823]: 77). The interplay of street
sounds musically summarise the hustle and bustle of everyday life in
London, implying that noise, sound or din – in the ear of the listener –
contribute to the dynamic cityscape that is absorbed by the London walk-
ers whose urban imaginaries become strongly influenced by multi-sensory
It is no surprise that eighteenth-century literary psychogeography
creates multi-sensory experiences of the city rather than experiences that
are entirely restricted to sight, for a sensory discourse was also happening
outside the realm of literature, especially in eighteenth-century Enlight-
enment debates. John Locke’s influential work An Essay Concerning Hu-
man Understanding (1690) contributed to the contemporary belief that all
five senses form the basis of all human knowledge:
Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper [tabula ra-
sa], void of all characters without any ideas; how comes it to be fur-
nished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and
boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless varie-
ty? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I
answer, in one word, From experience: in that all our knowledge is
founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself. Our observation,
employed either about external sensible objects, or about the internal
operations of our minds, perceived and reflected on by ourselves is
that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of think-
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 113

ing. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the
ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring […] Our senses, con-
versant about particular sensible objects, do convey into the mind sev-
eral distinct perceptions of things, according to those various ways
wherein those objects do affect them; and thus we come by those ideas
we have of yellow, white, heat, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet, and all
those which we call sensible qualities; which when I say the senses
convey into the mind, I mean, they from external objects convey into
the mind what produces there those perceptions. This great source of
most of the ideas we have, depending wholly upon our senses, and de-
rived by them to the understanding, I call, ‘sensation’ (Locke ca. 1990
For Locke, the mind is a blank slate with the senses inscribing upon the
mind to create true knowledge. Experiencing the outside world via the
channel of the senses is the “fountain of knowledge” from which every
thought or judgement arises. In Enlightenment debates, the five senses,
therefore, are a necessary requirement to experience the surrounding
world. Needless to say, the senses interpret the outside world in a variety
of ways, conveying into the mind “distinct perceptions of things.” Here,
we are again reminded of the subjectivity of experiences: the senses influ-
ence and manipulate individuals’ perceptions of (urban) space, as
the cultural mechanisms for interpreting sensory stimuli shape every-
day practices and interactions in public places. They also shape the
connections between individuals and the places and spaces themselves
(Borer 2013: 966).
As a consequence, the texts of this study can only be fully understood
when taking into account the sensory details of the urban environment that
are described in the texts. Catherine Zagar, too, argues that reading liter-
ary psychogeography “requires the development of heightened attention to
sensory details of a landscape” (Zagar 2010: 7) and this is precisely what
this study does, namely investigate the impact of sensory perception on an
individual’s perception of the city.
114 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

2.3.2. Experiencing the Text: Formal Elements of Literary Psychogeography

The London walkers are situated at street level and perceive the city from
one particular point of view. Thus, the London presented and represented
in the texts of this study is “inevitably shaped – in the selection, combina-
tion, perspectivization, interpretation, evaluation of elements – by the
agency producing it” (Hühn 2009: 1). As set out in chapter 2.1, represen-
tations of space in literature are never just blueprints of reality, but are
produced by the agency of experiencing space. The street-level point of
view is not unusual for literature on urban space, so argues Pike, as it al-
lows for the most immediate and closest mediation of experiences in the
The street-level vantage point is the most common in city literature. It
is a marvellous vehicle for conveying complexity, as well as being
closest to the reader's everyday experience: a fixed place, rich in reso-
nances of all kinds, which offers a setting or atmosphere for action,
and which at the same time involves many variables and a high degree
of uncertainty (Pike 1981: 35).
While I have outlined how the London walkers and their subjective vi-
sions of London are a characteristic of literary psychogeography on the
story level, on the discourse level, the high degree of subjectivity is
achieved to a great extent by unfolding space from this particular street-
level perspective. Hence, the London walkers can be understood to act as
focalisers through whose lenses the city is experienced. While there are
various types of focalisation,114 the focalisation in literary psychogeogra-
phy is internal, meaning the presentation of events is restricted “to the

In multiple focalisation, for instance, narrative episodes are presented more than once,
each time seen from the perspective of a different character (cf. Jahn 2005: 174).
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 115

point of view, perception, and cognition of a focal character” (Jahn 2005:

173). The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Narrative Theory defines internal
focalisation as the
perspectival restriction and orientation of narrative information rela-
tive to somebody’s (usually, a character’s) perception, imagination,
knowledge, or point of view […] Hence, focalization theory covers
the various means of regulating, selecting, and channelling narrative
information, particularly of seeing events from somebody’s point of
view, no matter how subjective or fallible this point of view might
turn out to be (see RELIABILITY) (Jahn 2005: 173).
A reference to “reliability” stresses the subjective and imaginary dimen-
sion of literary representations and in the context of this study points to-
wards the visions of London known as urban imaginaries. The city is
fleshed out from the perspective of a focal character, restricting the per-
ception of the city to one pair of eyes and one mind, and shaping the city
with the help of narrative descriptions of individual spatial surroundings,
spatial experiences or spatial relations. Narrative comments can range
from evaluative to explanatory, and thereby render the scope of possible
descriptions limitless. In that way, the city in literary psychogeography
only exists in relation to the focal character who describes it, even if it
may appear objective at first.
The subjectivity of the city in literary texts in general and literary
psychogeography in particular, is achieved through what Würzbach calls
the emotionalisation and evaluation (cf. Würzbach 2001: 15) of the focal-
isers‘ spatial surroundings. In the texts of this study, as we will see later,
certain areas of London can evoke personal memories or associations that
charge the city emotionally. As a consequence, the boundaries between
past and present, real and imagined become indistinct (cf. ibid.). Thus, in
116 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

their function as focal characters115, the London walkers construct their

individual cities, providing the reader with unique visions of London, as
literally everything – a house, a door, a scrap, a sign on the wall, even
absences behind the presences – can trigger complex memories, meta-
phoric transpositions, and associations to stories, events, and people.
The city thus becomes a score for multiple self-projections, a space
teeming with endless signification, a poly-palimpsestuous site inviting
endless discoveries, mythopoetic activities in every possible direction.
Living in the city means realizing to the fullest its immense potential
(Schlaeger 2003: 55).
Through the texts, individual perceptions, memories or emotions of the
London walkers are conveyed to the reader. As a result, London becomes
a multi-layered, “poly-palimpsestuous site.” The five modes of perception
– sight, sound, taste, smell and touch – also play an important role in fo-
calisation (cf. Nelles 1997)116 as they not only significantly influence the
individual’s perception of his surroundings, as discussed above, but also
allow the reader to enter into “a state of immersion” (Schlaeger 2003:
175), enabling him to empathise with the internal focaliser. Literary psy-
chogeography can only be classified as such when the London walkers
function as internal focalisers on the discourse level. As a consequence,
internal focalisation contributes to the high degree of subjectivity in the
texts of this study and results in a fusion of objectivity and subjectivity, or
of the real and the imagined.

or internal focalisers. Focal characters is a term used by Genette, whereas internal
focalisers is a term used by Bal. Both denote the same.
As Schlaeger observes in his definition of focalisation, William Nelles “conjugates
focalization through the five modes of perception, obtaining ‘ocularisation’ (sight), ‘au-
ricularisation’ (sound), ‘gustativisation’ (taste), ‘olfactivisation’ (smell), and ‘tactivili-
sation’ (touch)” (Schlaeger 2003: 174).
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 117

Many of the texts of this study not only consist of text alone, but feature
non-textual elements as well. Multimodality is a literary phenomenon of-
ten at first associated with twenty-first-century novels and a growing trend
of authors to incorporate non-textual or even hyper-textual elements into
their works.117 When looking at eighteenth-century literature, however,
the role other arts played in the literary discourse is often underestimated:
In the eighteenth century, if we think of poetry, drama, painting and so
on as separate arts, we miss their interdependence, and what they
share. Engravings in the period are often very textual; poetry is often
pictorially descriptive, and both visual and written satires are staged in
terms of scenes and characters, sharing types and techniques. ‘Read-
ing’ is a term common to both modes, and one used by admirers of
Hogarth nearer to his own time than us. So Charles Lamb argued, ‘His
graphic representations are indeed books: they have the teeming, fruit-
ful, suggestive meaning of words. Other pictures we look at – his
prints we read’ (Brant 2008: 6).
Brant points towards an interdependence between word and image and
suggests that in the eighteenth century, literature and the visual arts
merge. Texts, especially poetry, are not only readable, but also have a vis-
ual dimension, whereas, vice versa, eighteenth-century prints are not only
visual but have to be read as well. Hogarth’s serials, for example, are
chronologically progressing narratives, while his single engravings are so
rich in detail that they contain multiple stories as well. What is more, his
works also construct urban imaginaries of London by addressing different
aspects of everyday urban life and situating them within contexts of mo-
rality, urban vices or urban virtues. Moreover, they often bear referentiali-
ty by incorporating well-known London locations or renowned figures of
urban society, or they convey multi-sensory experiences of the urban

One of the most quoted examples of contemporary multimodal novels is Jonathan Saf-
ran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2006).
118 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

landscape. The relation between the arts, therefore, can be described as

more than an influence and should rather be understood as a confluence
(cf. ibid.). While Brant is concerned with print culture and Hogarth in par-
ticular, her argument also allows broader observations when it comes to
examining the functions of non-textual elements in eighteenth-century
literary psychogeography.
Commonly speaking, it is widely recognised that “[n]arrative ex-
periences employ a rich range of semiotic resources” and that “[p]ut simp-
ly, stories do not consist of words alone” (Page 2010: 1). Although the use
of non-textual modes in the texts of this study is not as distinctive as in
contemporary literary psychogeography118, it would be inaccurate to dis-
regard them. In her collected volume New Perspectives on Narrative and
Multimodality, Page warns of a “mode-blindness” (Page 2010: 3) when
“reading” narrative texts, and strongly encourages awareness of different
narrative resources that broaden the reading experience. When looking at
eighteenth-century literary psychogeography and the texts of this study in
particular, it is conspicuous that the texts are enriched with sketches, fig-
ures or tables that complement the written word. Even though the textual
mode is still dominant, the non-textual elements play a significant role in
literary psychogeography as they generate a “dynamic interplay of semiot-
ic resources” (ibid. 8). A very basic function of multimodality in literature
is in fact the embellishment of verbal records with non-textual elements.
These elements are either integrated into the text or precede it, for exam-
ple on the cover page of a text. The 1795 edition of Gay’s Trivia, to give
an example, features a one-page illustration of a walker which is situated
between the two title pages of Gay’s text (also see chapter 3 where the

Alan Moore’s graphic novel From Hell (2006), or Self and Steadman’s Psychogeogra-
phy (2007) would be examples of literary psychogeography that is distinctively multi-
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 119

illustration is discussed in more detail). While the illustration undeniably

embellishes the text and might attract readers, it has two other important
functions as well. Firstly, the sketch of the walker communicates meaning
in that it depicts a figure whose relation to the text becomes quite evident,
even more so in combination with the title Trivia: Or the Art of Walking
the Streets of London. The illustration explicitly introduces the protagonist
of Gay’s text, the London walker, and depicts him in a way that already
provides a sort of reading guidance. From his clothes and equipment it is
apparent that the walker is not just one arbitrary walker, but a figure prob-
ably belonging to the upper middle class who is not modest enough to
conceal his social background. The illustration biases the reader, as when
reading the text and following the London walker’s urban experiences, the
image of the walker is ever present in the reader’s mind. Secondly, the
illustration facilitates the immersion of the reader into the world of the
fictional character. Just as focalisation generates reader immersion, the
use of non-textual elements also contributes to capturing readers and ena-
bles them to relate to the fictional world created in the text more easily
(also see Gibbons 2010: 100). Being visually introduced to the London
walker prior to reading the poem, the reader of Trivia is prepared for the
journey through the city he is about to mentally embark upon. Thus the
combination of textual and non-textual elements in literary psychogeogra-
phy not only intensifies the reading experience, but also the experience of
the city and the creation of an urban imaginary as mediated through the

Rhetorics of Walking
As a key aspect of literary psychogeography, walking not only finds its
way into the story level of texts, but also into the discourse level. The di-
mension of walking on the level of discourse is twofold: Firstly, the ac-
120 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

tivity of walking is echoed in the narrative structure of the texts and sec-
ondly, the texts of this study display a terminology of walking that stress-
es the importance of perceiving the city from the perspective of a walker.
In his essay “Walking in the City,” already discussed in chapter
1.1, de Certeau uses the term walking rhetorics to describe the limitless-
ness of walking. As outlined before, de Certeau compares walking to
speech acts in the course of which the urban walker “writes” his own ur-
ban story by individually piecing the city together:
walking […] offers a series of turns (tours) and detours that can be
compared to ‘turns of phrase’ or ‘stylistic figures.’ There is a rhetoric
of walking. The art of ‘turning’ phrases finds an equivalent in an art of
composing a path (tourner un parcours). Like ordinary language, this
art implies and combines styles and uses (Certeau 1984: 100).
Important for literary psychogeography is the urban walker’s own choice
of path and his personal composition of the city, regardless of whether his
journey follows conventional routes or pre-scribed pathways. By under-
standing walking as a form of rhetoric, the activity itself also obtains indi-
vidual style, articulation, fluency and meaning. A characteristic of the
texts in this study is thus the reflection of such walking rhetorics in the
narrative structure of the text. Hence,
[t]he psychogeographical 'journey' is […] not only difficult for the
psychogeographer, whose route is crossed and often interrupted by
[…] obstacles, it can also be something of an obstacle race for the
reader, whose journey through the narrative is anything but smooth
and pleasant (Berensmeyer and Löffler forthcoming).
Reading literary psychogeography can be a rough and unsteady experi-
ence for the reader, as the undetermined, spontaneous character of the ur-
ban walker’s path through the city echoes through the text. This section
from Brown’s Amusements serves as an example for illustrating how the
activity of walking is reflected in the narrative: In Amusement III, titled
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 121

“London,” the pathway of two London walkers is characterised by a per-

petual change of directions that is mirrored in the textual composition.
The narrator’s journey starts at Temple Bar, where his imaginary friend
“dropt perpendicularly from the Clouds” (Brown 1927 [1700]: 11). Before
starting the walk, the Indian and the narrator take in the whole scene, turn-
ing their attention from here to there:
In that dark shop there, several mysteries of iniquity have seen light
[…] T’other side of the way directs you to a house of a more sweet-
smelling savour than its owner’s conscience; […] Here stands a shop-
keeper who has not soul enough to wear a beaver hat, […] and not far
from him a stingy trader […] One side of the way points you out a
bookseller turned quack […] and t’other directs you to a divinity-
monger (ASC 11).
The scene is presented as a panorama that the reader can easily imagine,
yet is not granted the time to linger on for long. The Indian and the narra-
tor instead pan back and forth, dragging the reader along whether he is
prepared for it or not. The demonstrative pronouns used in the quotation
above – here, there – are words frequently used in Amusements and func-
tion as spatial indicators. They signal turns and detours, thereby giving the
walking rhetorics a textual dimension as well. The narrative of “Amuse-
ment III” is quite bumpy, reflecting the figures’ unsteady walk through
London. Moreover, the narrator and the Indian’s journey through the city
is continuously interrupted by episodes of various kinds. The narrator,
introducing his foreign friend to urban life in London repeatedly halts to
point out persons of interest, “individual[s] worthy of […] strictest obser-
vation” (ASC 13), such as “parsons, lawyers, apothecaries, projectors, ex-
cisemen, organists, picture-sellers, fiddlers and bailiffs” (ASC 13). The
excursions are for the most part initiated by the narrator, who often also
stops to ponder different London institutions or catches up with his past
(ASC 19). The walkers’ path is constantly broken off, as the narrator
122 2. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography and the London Walker

jumps back and forth between present, past and personal memories. These
contemplations disrupt the walking of the two figures, making it less easy
for the reader to catch up with them.
While the text’s narrative structure corresponds with the walking
activity of the London walkers, the texts themselves also display a termi-
nology of walking. This means that in the texts, there are frequent refer-
ences or entire passages devoted to contemplating the activity of walking
as such. Gay’s Trivia is particularly rich when it comes to a meta-
discussion of walking. The London walker discusses a variety of aspects
relating to moving through the city on foot, such as the hazards of walk-
ing, the best time for walking, the requirements for walking or the benefits
of walking. Looking at the passage below, for example, the London walk-
er makes two important comments about walking:
Let Beaus their Canes with Amber tip produce,
Be theirs for empty Show, but thine for Use.
In gilded Chariots while they loll at Ease,
And lazily insure a Life’s Disease;
While softer Chairs the tawdry Load convey
To Court, to White’s, Assemblies, or the Play;
Rosie-complexion’d Health thy Steps attends,
And Exercise thy lasting Youth defends (Trivia I: 67-74).
First, the walker encourages the use of a cane. For him, however, a cane
should not be used as an accessory, but to “support thy walking Hand”
(Trivia I: 61) and to prevent a “careless pace” (Trivia I: 77).119 Moreover,
the London walker points out the benefits of walking by comparing it to
using a coach as an alternative means of transport. He considers taking a

Interestingly, the walker contradicts himself: While he judges the “fops” who use canes
“for empty show” (I. 68), the walker stresses that when using a cane, “Chairmen no
longer shall the Wall command;/ Ev’n sturdy Carmen shall thy Nod obey, / And rattling
Coaches stop to make thee Way” (I. 62-64). Hence, the walker uses his cane for show
too, showing off his upper middle-class status.
2.3. Eighteenth-Century Literary Psychogeography: From Experience to Text 123

carriage lazy and unhealthy, whereas walking ensures a rosy complexion,

well-being and contributes to staying young and fit.120 In the texts of this
study, comments on the activity of walking can be found quite frequently.
They illustrate the importance of walking and show that walking as a
means of exploring the city is not an arbitrary choice. Instead, the con-
templations on walking and its discussion on a meta-level signify that
walking is indeed imperatively necessary to guarantee psychogeograph-
ical experiences of urban space.

Chapter 3 deals with Trivia’s London walker’s comments on walking in great detail.
Part II

London Imaginaries: Walking Experiences in a Changing City

3. The Art of Walking
Walking, as discussed in detail in chapter 2, occupies a particular position
in psychogeographical explorations of the city. By no means conceived of
as an everyday practice, “the act of walking and the bodily rhythms it in-
corporates [are] felt to somehow reflect or engender the mental processes
of abstract thought” (Coverley 2012: 2). Although a walking figure is the
prerequisite for literary psychogeography and hence appears in every text
to be analysed in Part II, the activity of walking in John Gay’s Trivia: Or
the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) and John Thelwall’s The
Peripatetic (1791) takes on a particularly great significance. Gay and
Thelwall create walkers who comprehend walking as an art that facilitates
meditations, states of alert reverie and particular atmospheres of the walk-
ers’ geographical environments. For both walkers, “to walk is to journey
in the mind as much as on the land” (Ingold 2011: 178), in that way gen-
erating a union of mind and foot.
Although sharing the notion of walking as an art, the two walkers
have profoundly different ideas of the activity’s suitability, particularly so
when it comes to the question of who is in the position to conduct con-
templative walking: While Trivia’s walker is situated within London’s
increasing metropolitanism and feels that artful walking should be re-
served for a certain, upper middle-class clientele, The Peripatetic’s walk-
er’s sympathy with the marginalised is rooted in the sentimental move-
ment that developed in the latter half of the eighteenth century. The fol-
lowing chapter is thus concerned with the walkers’ perceptions of walking
as an art as well as with questions of what artful walking can facilitate.

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017

C. Löffler, Walking in the City,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-17743-0_4
128 3. The Art of Walking

3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London

John Gay was born in 1685 in Barnstaple, Devon, where he spent his early
years. After his parents’ deaths, he moved to London where he was ap-
prenticed to a draper. Although he never worked in this profession, his
knowledge about fabrics and fashion is echoed throughout his works. De-
spite his early interest in drama, Gay did not publish anything until he
wrote and published the poem “Wine” in 1708; after that, he continuously
published mainly poems or essays for periodicals 121, while his early plays,
such as The Wife of Bath (1713), did not prove to be successful. Gay was
companioned with Alexander Pope, who, although three years Gay’s sen-
ior, regarded him as his pupil. In 1714, Gay, Pope and other figures of
London’s literary circle, among them Jonathan Swift and John Arbuthnot,
founded the Scriblerus Club; for Gay, this was the first time he found
himself at the centre of London’s literary and political establishment (cf.
Nokes 2004). Today, he remains best-known for his Beggar’s Opera
(1728), 200 years later adapted by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill into The
Threepenny Opera (1928). Although it was never Gay’s intention, the
Beggar’s Opera initiated the gradual “death of the vogue for Italian Opera
in England” (ibid.), thus becoming a watershed composition of eight-
eenth-century English drama and opera.
Characteristic of Gay’s works is the ambiguity of tone, and often,
there is a great degree of allusion hidden underneath the surface. As Gay’s
biographer observes,

“The Shepherd’s Week” (1714) is considered one of his best early works.
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 129

the sense in which the London streets of Trivia are both topograph-
ically real, and literary metaphors, gives the poem an animation and
vitality of reference which defiantly resist any simple reading […] At
its best this permeation of the real with the imaginary can acquire a
strange visionary and surreal quality which lends satire a disturbing
imaginative force (Nokes 1995: 212).
In what is to follow, I decode these allusions and Trivia’s imaginative
force by reading it as a form of literary psychogeography. The title of the
poem alone is packed with illusions and hints:122 Claiming its didactic
pose in the title, the poem not only alludes to Virgil’s Georgics, but from
the beginning evokes associations with a useful and entertaining guide (cf.
Brant 2007: 106f.). The word “trivia” invites various interpretations: First-
ly, by referring to the Roman goddess of crossroads, Trivia, the title
would have prepared readers to expect allusions to classical works
throughout the poem. 123 Moreover, alluding to the goddess of cross-
roads124, the title already establishes a topical connection to the street.

Interestingly, Gay deliberately uses “London” as spatial reference, and not Westminster
or the city of London. In that way, “Trivia occupies – and contributes to – an important
moment during London’s integration when the separate, partisan cities of Westminster
(the aristocratic Court) and the City of London (the mercantile City) began to be known
by the single, more general title of ‘London’” (Bond 2007: 44).
Classical allusions in Trivia are numerous. To begin with, the poem’s epitaph is a quo-
tation from Virgil’s Eclogue 9: Quo te Moeri pedes? An, quo via ducit, in Urbem?
(“Where are you off to, Moeris? Are you following the path, headed to the city?”). A
following short advertisement closes again with a quotation from Virgil’s Eclogue 3:
Non tu, in Triviis, Indocte, solebas Stridenti, miserum, stipula disperdere Carmen?
(“Wasn’t it you that was always mangling your wretched song on your screeching pipe
at the crossroads, you ignoramus?”). Examining this very beginning of Trivia, before
the poem actually begins, Braund has observed that “in his very opening materials, Gay
has already woven together three different genres of Latin poetry […]: didactic epic,
pastoral, and satire” (Braund 2007: 152). References to figures from Greek mythology
appear often, too, for example to Niobe (I. 168), Alecto (I. 203), Orpheus (I. 204), Phil-
omela (II. 380), Charybdis (III. 183) and Oedipus (III. 215), to name only a few. For a
detailed analysis of classical allusions in Trivia, see Braund 2007, Rogers 2005, Ames
1978 and Dearing/Beckwith 1974.
Trivia is the Roman equivalent to the Greek goddess of crossroads, Hecate, a three-
bodied or three-headed sinister figure guiding crossroads and road junctions.
130 3. The Art of Walking

Secondly, Gay provides clues in the title hinting at the seriousness of the
poem. “Trivia” as useless information or matters of little importance di-
rects the reader to read the poem with a degree of irony and satire at the
back of his or her mind.125 It is no surprise, then, that the different parts of
the poem are united by a “mock-heroic motif of danger” (ibid. 109), as the
walker has to endure the “perils” and “hazards” of walking in the city in
order to give his readers the best advice possible. Thirdly, “trivia” from
the Latin “trivium” – a place where three roads meet (cf. Williams
1922)126 – also already hints at the division of the book into three parts:
Via three parts, the reader will learn about the art of walking.
A characteristic of Gay’s writing style is the adaptation of old forms
into amusing topicalities (cf. Brant and Whyman 2007: 10), making many
of his works hard to classify generically. Formally, Trivia’s basic structure
is borrowed from Virgil’s four-part poem Georgics, marking Gay’s poem
as an urban georgic. Because of its strong use of satire and irony, and the
moral attitudes of the walker, however, Trivia is often classified as a mock
georgic. Nevertheless, debates concerning the poem’s genre are still per-
sistent, as Nokes rightfully observes:
In formal terms […] the poem is a town georgic; what is elusive is its
tone. Some commentators have read its descriptions of the London
streets as an exercise in topographical realism; while others regard it
as a ‘purely literary artefact,’ claiming, ‘our experience of it is filtered
almost entirely through allusions, recollections, imitations-of Virgil,

Although the understanding of “trivia” as a noun was not yet established during that
time, the adjective “trivial” was already used in today’s sense of the word.
Trivium, together with quatrivium also refers to the education of liberal arts with its
origin in classical antiquity. In the Middle Ages, education in the seven liberal arts be-
came the standard education at universities. The seven liberal arts were studied in a
two-fold form: Trivium comprised the primary subjects of the seven liberal arts
(Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric), and quatrivium the secondary subjects (Arithmetic, Ge-
ometry, Music, Astronomy).
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 131

Juvenal, Dryden.’127 Some find a tone of celebration in its description

of the busy, dirty town, while others read it as a moral satire. Thus one
writes that ‘all the genuine activities of the town […] take on the qual-
ity of a ballet or a pageant,’128 while another insists that these same
London streets appear as ‘the very type and habitation of moral disor-
der, depravity, and disease.’129 Pat Rogers endeavours to resolve these
contradictions by finding in the poem’s elusive tone a subtle combina-
tion of literary, social, and moral themes.
While all these attempts at classifying Trivia have their own right, the
genre remains obscure. While reading, I would argue, the reader wanders
through various genres, thereby going astray from time to time only to
find himself back on a different path or re-crossing paths. Wandering
through genres on a formal level initiates the psychogeographical journey
through the streets of London. Formally, the reading experience is inter-
rupted, making it a jagged journey through the poem for the reader: Jump-
ing between and combining satirical, (mock-) georgic, geographical and
moral elements, Trivia exhibits a generic playfulness that ranks the poem
“among the most sophisticated and most accomplished exemplars of neo-
classical allusiveness” (Ames 1978: 199). Despite its generic discontinui-
ty, however, Gay provides some sort of formal guidance through the po-
em. Along the way, the reader is offered metaphorical sign posts that steer
his reading experience (also see Brant 2007: 114), as Gay adds side head-
ings to the poem to help the reader find his way: “An Episode of the Great
Frost,” “Signs of Cold Weather,” “The Pleasure of Walking through an
Alley,” “Of Avoiding Paint,” to name but a few of these side headings,
function as indicators that are both structural and content-related. Togeth-
er with the three-part division and an index – an “unusual editorial device
in the context of eighteenth-century practice” (Bond 2007: 42) – at the end

Nokes is quoting Byrd 1978: 62.
Nokes is quoting Chalker 1969: 177–78.
Nokes is quoting Battestin 1974: 127–40.
132 3. The Art of Walking

of the poem, these indicators not only organise Trivia, but also hint at the
readability of the city as such. Newly erected sign posts, street names and
house numbers, as well as “signs of the weather” and sensory signs need
to be decoded and only if rightfully understood make the city readable.
The division of Trivia, together with the index and textual sign-
posts can also be read as signs of multi-modality that correspond with the
poem’s generic variety. While the early editions vary slightly, they all
display some non-textual elements that enhance the reading experience.
The first and second London editions, both from 1716, contain a little
sketch of a street scene. 130 On the sketch, the reader can see a number of
walking figures, among them a woman wearing a cloak, a male walker
with typical contemporary middle-class frock, a female walker with an
umbrella, two workers paving the street 131 and other figures whose con-
tours unfortunately remain indistinct and cannot be specified. 132 A coach
is also visible in the sketch, stressing the juxtaposition between walkers
and drivers. The scene shows an open view of the city, with a street open-
ing up in the middle of the sketch, framed by two houses, and leading to-

In the first edition, the street scene is printed above the beginning of the poem on page
4, whereas in the second edition, the street scene is printed on the title page. My guess
is that as the two editions appeared shortly after each other, the street scene was moved
to the title page to make Gay’s poem more attractive to potential readers and/or buyers.
In the 1730 edition, the street scene has wandered away from the title page and back to
the beginning of the poem. Though there is no apparent reason for the various changes
of location of the sketch, it is nevertheless interesting: Seeing the book as an object, the
sketch as such also demonstrates the “art of walking”, wandering to and fro between
different positions in the editions. Some editions, however, such as the 1716 Dublin
edition, do not feature the sketch at all. In fact, a lot of these wanderings can be ob-
served when looking at the various editions of Trivia. In the 1727 edition, to give an-
other example, the index has moved from the back of the book to the front.
The two figures reappear at the very beginning of the poem, and once more in Book II:
“For thee, the sturdy Paviour thumps the Ground,/ Whilst ev’ry Stroke his lab’ring
Lungs resound” (I. 13-4). “[…] the Pavior’s Art/ Renews the Ways, deny’d to Coach
and Cart” (II. 309-10).
For another reading of the sketch see Jenner 2007: 98–99.
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 133

wards what looks like the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. What is interest-
ing is the clear view of separate walking areas or pavements, clearly
marked by bollards. This early form of traffic management is hence not
only a central theme in the poem as such, but already alluded to in the
sketch. Although the sketch provides a view of the city from a slightly
elevated position, it immediately situates the reader/viewer in the streets
of the city, thereby anticipating the street-level vantage point of the Lon-
don walker in the poem. With the help of the sketch, the reader is prepared
for the journey that is about to begin, making him sensible to the variety
of figures he is about to encounter along the way, as well as to the matter
of walking around on which the poem is built. Worth mentioning is also a
sketch that, although only appearing in the 1795 edition of the poem, is
quite interesting with regard to the walking figure in Trivia. Between title
page and the beginning of the poem, a male figure is depicted, assumed to
be the London walker of the poem. The clothes of the walker – the infor-
mal wig without curls, the waistcoat and the stockings – indicate a mid-
dle-class status. Below the walker are printed four lines from the poem
(III. 259-261) that stress the importance of virtue. There is, however, no
apparent reason for why the walker looks so cheerless and doleful. 133 A
third interesting non-textual element of Trivia is a title-page illustration in
the 1795 edition. 134 Making use of heraldic iconography, the illustration
looks like a coat of arms featuring elements connected to walking, more
particular practical clothing for the activity: Two umbrellas frame the em-

Interesting about the 1795 edition of Trivia is also the fact that there is no division of
the poem into three books. Instead, all three books are converted into one long poem,
without any visible paragraph markers. Although the index remains, there are no hints
whatsoever as to why the division is dissolved.
John Gay, obviously, had no say in adding the sketch of the walker in the 1795 edition.
We also do not know for sure whether Gay was involved in adding and re-arranging the
street scene in the earlier editions of Trivia.
134 3. The Art of Walking

blem on both sides, while at the top, a male hat rests on two crossed walk-
ing canes. At the bottom, you can see two muffs, as well as one male and
one female shoe. A men’s coat is draped over the left side, while a wom-
en’s cloak hangs over the right side of the blazon. As Rubeiro has ob-
served, the illustration suggests an equal treatment of both genders in the
poem. These expectations are not fulfilled, however, as most of the Lon-
don walker’s attention is directed towards males (see Ribeiro 2007: 135).
The embellishment of texts with non-textual elements is a characteristic of
literary psychogeography. The various editions deploy different narrative
resources and challenge the reader on various levels, but what the non-
textual elements all have in common is their function as reading guidance.
Being confronted with the street scene, the heraldic blazon or the walking
figure, the reader is introduced to the subject matter that strongly corre-
lates with the title of the poem. As The Art of Walking the Streets of Lon-
don implicates pedestrian movement in an urban setting, so do the visual
elements. From the start, the reader is immersed in the city streets. The
visual elements, however, to some extent also bias the reader, as they raise
certain expectations and imaginings. In that way, they play a part in con-
structing and developing the urban imaginary that evolves from the poem.


The first book of Trivia is entitled “Of the Implements for Walking the
Streets, and Signs of the Weather” and with 282 lines is the shortest of the
three books. The focus of Book I does not lie on the London walker’s ex-
periences of the city just yet; instead, in an introductory mode it lists and
evaluates necessary utensils and attires for walking through the city. Alt-
hough Gay playfully uses walking terminology throughout the entire po-
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 135

em, it is at its strongest in Book I. It begins with a clear statement about

the purpose of Trivia:
Through Winter Streets to steer your Course aright,
How to walk clean by Day, and safe by Night,
How jostling Crouds, with Prudence, to decline,
When to assert the Wall, and when resign (I: 1-4).
The didactic purpose of the poem is summarised in these four lines. The
walker focuses on the winter season, due to frost, slipperiness, icicles and
cold probably the most dangerous of all. 135 He intends to give advice on
how to walk safely and how to stay clean, which already hints at the
walker’s slightly snobbish general attitude. For him, it is important to re-
main detached but polite, because while he does not want to be in close
proximity to other people in the crowd, he is still concerned with the art of
politeness that became an important notion for the middle-classes in the
eighteenth century. Hence, the walker for example informs readers about
the rule of giving and asserting the wall. 136 Essential for walking through
the city is the right kind of shoe:
Let firm, well-hammer’d Soles protect thy Feet
Thro’ freezing Snows, and Rains, and soaking Sleet.
Should the big Late extend the Shoe too wide,
Each Stone will wrench th’unwary Step aside:
The sudden Turn may stretch the swelling Vein,
Thy cracking Joint unhinge, or Ankle sprain;
In this way, Gay deviates from other poets and writers who traditionally depict winter
as a time when snow and glittering frost covers the ground and transforms the land-
scape into a calm, muffled, fairytale-like world. On the contrary, Trivia emphasises the
downsides and dangers of winter and thus stands in dark contrast to other works that are
inspired by winter’s bewitching power. This unexpected and prosaic treatment of winter
is also what makes Trivia a mock-poem.
In eighteenth-century London, it was safest to walk along the wall. However, politeness
also dictated rules concerning the wall, as especially women and social superiors were
usually given the wall. Taking the wall thus was also a social distinction. An entire epi-
sode in the second book is therefore dedicated “to whom to give the wall” and “to
whom to refuse the wall” (II. 4564).
136 3. The Art of Walking

And when too short the modish shoes are worn,

You’ll judge the Seasons by your shooting Corn (I. 33-40).
The foot connects the walker’s body with his urban surroundings and
therefore, quite literally, becomes the most important physical link be-
tween the London walker and the city. Hence, footwear must be chosen
with care to ensure pain-free movement. The importance of shoes, more
specifically pattens, is taken up again and again throughout the poem. A
long episode at the end of Book I, for instance, explains the apparent ori-
gins of pattens (I. 223-282), a type of wooden overshoe that elevated the
foot above mud and dirt. But the involvement of the Roman god of fire
soon unmasks the episode as a “heroic-comical” (Brant 2007: 111) myth.
Overcoats, canes, and clothes for females also feature in the discussion of
walking aids. Considering all these implements for walking, the narrator
argues that walking requires elaboration, efficiency, and effort. For his
purpose, walking needs to be well thought through and sophisticated, the
reason for his pragmatic approach to walking at the beginning of Trivia.
Listing all these walking devices and rules, however, has another function
as well. Gregori describes it as “defensive strategy” and “protective func-
tion” (Gregori 2005: 80), because the devices will save the walker from
sprained ankles, from getting cold or wet, from being sprayed with mud or
paint, and much more. At the same time, the walker’s defensive strategy is
also an indicator of his vanity. As briefly mentioned already, the walker
displays a slightly snobbish attitude which from time to time shines
through. “The dirty point [of other walkers’ canes] oft checks the careless
Pace/ And miry Spots thy clean Cravat disgrace” (I. 77-8), “some heedless
Flirt/ Will over-spread thy Calves with spatt’ring Dirt” (II. 94-5), “Oft the
loose Stone spirts up a muddy Tide/ Beneath thy careless Foot” (II. 265-
66) are just a few examples for the walker’s disdain towards careless peo-
ple or other walkers. The walker’s attempts to stay “clear of the basic ur-
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 137

ban texture […] made of rain, mud, filth, disease, and pollution” (Gregori
2005: 85) forbids him to actively participate in everyday urban life. This
behaviour already indicates the walker’s detached position within the city,
which I examine more closely further on. When musing about inconven-
iences caused by weather or other natural causes, the walker is less resent-
ful. Nuisances induced by other people, however, highly annoy him. He
is, for instance, prejudiced towards Londoners who have an inferior social
status, for example apprentices:
Seek not from Prentices to learn the Way,
Those fabling Boys will turn thy Steps astray (II. 69-70).
When he is not prejudiced, he is derogatory, voicing his contempt for
people “below” his social rank:
Here oft the Peasant, with enquiring Face,
Bewilder’d, trudges on from Place to Place;
He dwells on ev’ry Sign, with stupid Gaze,
Enters the narrow Alley’s doubtful Maze,
Trys ev’ry winding Court and Street in vain,
And doubles o’er his weary Steps again (II. 77-82).
This passage, in which the peasant’s “stupid gaze” clashes with the walk-
er’s proper “judicious Eye” (II. 3), is patronising, as the walker clearly
thinks highly of himself and allows no room for people of lower standards
or classes. Instead, the walker distances himself from the working class.
Promoting the “art” of walking, the walker hence strongly distinguishes
between the “working class” and the “walking class” (cf. Brant 2007:
110). Although of course the working class also has to walk, for the Lon-
don walker, this quotidian activity is elevated to a contemplative enter-
prise that not everyone is capable of.137 This makes one wonder, because

In direct contrast, see The Peripatetic, to be analysed in the next chapter, which defies
the notion of walking as an art as a practice exclusively for the elite.
138 3. The Art of Walking

the walker certainly knows that the heterogeneity of the crowd is a charac-
teristic of modern urban life. As a consequence, a soupçon of arrogance
and self-assurance tinges the vision of London that is created in Trivia.138
What is more, the walker’s superior attitude is also reflected in his attire.
If fashion is understood as a semiotic system, the walker’s outer appear-
ance, his choice of clothes and his constant urge to draw attention to his
attire confirms his self-assured manner. His clothes and accessories serve
as a vehicle for self-performance (cf. Scholz 2005: 99f.)139, and so, his
wig, cane, shoes, coat and snuff box become symbols of his social status
which he is more than willing to display. This also explains why the walk-
er, exposed to perils like mud, dirt, dust, rain, and much more, does not
wander about the streets dressed less elegantly. For the walker, the per-
formative potential of walking, which also includes self-staging via fash-
ion, has absolute priority and thus, Trivia is not an objective account of
the streets of London, but quite the contrary: Seen through the eyes of the
London walker, the poem constructs an urban imaginary that is based on
the walker’s superior self-assessment and his conviction that walking
should be an art.
Returning to Gay’s use of walking terminology in Trivia, there
are two more observations that stress the importance of walking in the city
on a textual level. It is conspicuous that throughout the poem, words be-
longing to the field of urban architectural semantics are used quite fre-
quently. Overall, the term “street[s]” occurs 44 times in the poem, while
similar terms like “alley,” “court,” “corner” and “lane” can also be found
repeatedly. It is interesting to take a closer look at the adjectives describ-

Indeed, Trivia’s walker as a “self-absorbed, unsociable man” is very different from
Addison’s and Steele’s “sociable spectator” (Brant and Whyman 2007: 18).
Other studies of fashion and dress in eighteenth-century Britain are Huck (2010)and
Huck (2011).
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 139

ing these spatial indicators of urban specifics. Streets are described as

“spacious” (I. 6), “flam[ing] with glaring Equipage” (I. 114), “branching”
(II. 214), “long” (II. 369), “busie” (III. 11) and “publick” (III. 143), char-
acterising them as the main way through the city. They are described as
comparatively wide and occupied by the majority of the public. Pave-
ments are an important feature of the street, as horses and carriages use
the middle of the street that is also significantly dirtier than the pavement,
as the walker observes: “There may’st thou pass, with safe unmiry Feet,/
Where the rais’d Pavement leads athwart the Street” (III. 186-7). What
also distinguishes the street from alleys or lanes are posts that separate the
walking space from driving space: “Posts defend the Street” (III. 156), so
“Thence thro’ the Street he reels, from Post to Post” (III: 293). The poem
produces the image of a street as consisting of separate walking and driv-
ing areas as well as pavements, thereby verbally reflecting the sketch of
the street scene in the first and second editions of Trivia. Alleys are de-
scribed as “winding” (I. 8), “narrow” (II. 80) and “dark” (II. 133), where
pedestrians are exposed to the risk of getting robbed in an alley. The de-
scriptions of courts is slightly ambiguous, as they are “winding” (II. 81)
and “mazy” (III. 261), usually not adjectives typically associated with a
court, a clear space enclosed by the walls of surrounding buildings. More
significant, however, is the label “silent” (I. 9), which thereby distin-
guishes courts from the busy and public area of the street. Adding adjec-
tives to the terms street, alley, court, square (“op’ning square”, I. 9) or
lane (“long perplexing lanes” I. 10), the London walker not only differen-
tiates urban spaces, but also the activity of walking as such. Walking in
the street, the walker, although streets are comparatively wide, has to nav-
igate through the busy crowds and needs to be careful not to collide with
horses or coaches. In alleys or courts, the walker has the chance to retreat,
and he regularly seeks the silence:
140 3. The Art of Walking

But sometimes let me leave the noisie Roads,

And silent wander in the close Abodes
Where Wheels ne’er shake the Ground; there pensive stray,
In studious Thought, the long uncrouded Way,
Here I remark each Walker’s diff’rent Face,
And in their Look their various Bus’ness trace140 (II. 271-76)
Although in the alley the walker might be unprotected from petty crime or
might stumble upon passionate lovers (cf. III. 133), he recommends silent
alleys and courts to escape the noisiness, crowdedness and anonymity of
the street.
In Trivia, a lot of passages deal with crossings and transitions. As
observed earlier, Gay offers the readers of Trivia side headings to the po-
em that steer their reading experience. As a consequence, the poem is not
only divided into three books, but also sub-divided in numerous passages
or episodes separated by the metaphorical sign posts. Without these sign
posts, reading would be much more difficult, as the walker himself ob-
serves: “[…] never stray/ where no rang’d Posts defend the rugged Way”
(II. 227-8). In contrast to the actual walker, the reader has no real oppor-
tunity to stray (the only way would be to read the poem criss-cross, which
no reader is likely to do), and so, the sign posts are an indispensable ele-
ment in Trivia. Interestingly, there is no recognisable pattern to the transi-
tions between the passages. Often, the transition is very abrupt, changing
from an episode of “Frosty Weather” (II. 316 f.) to “The Dangers of Foot-
ball” (II. 345) and back towards “An Episode of the great Frost” (II. 357
f.) with no connection whatsoever between the passages. Other times, the
transition is done very cleverly, as these two examples show: In “The
most inconvenient Streets to Walkers,” the London walker describes the
unpleasant surroundings of Watling Street, while in the following passage

Understood as semiotic system, fashion and attire could also be an indicator of profes-
sion (also see Scholz 2005).
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 141

“The Pell-Mell celebrated,” he moves on to “fair”, “safe” and “grateful”

Pall Mall. The transition from a bad to a good area, quite plainly put, is
modelled seamlessly. Another very intelligent transition can be found fur-
ther along in Book II. An episode “of Christmas” (II. 437 f.) explains in
detail Christmas decorations, seasonal spices and smells as well as benev-
olent behaviour; the next episode is entitled “Precepts of Charity” (II. 451
f.) and picks up the topic of “Heavn’n-born Charity” (II. 443) that should
not only be exercised at Christmas, but throughout the year. The irregular-
ity of the transitions reflect both the movement of the London walker
through the city as well as the reader’s experience while following the
walker’s route on the page. The walker lets himself be steered by situa-
tions and experiences, resulting in the unsystematic rambling of the
streets. As we will see in the following, the route of the walker is not al-
ways linear, quite to the contrary; and so, as a consequence, is the reading
experience. The reader conducts a journey in the mind, figuratively in the
walker’s footsteps, which is not only geographical, but also psychological.
The reader thereby gains an understanding and, literally a feeling, of the
walker’s movement which exceed a “conventional” reading experience.
The movement of the walker can hence be understood as a psychogeo-
graphical dérive. But how exactly is the walking activity of Gay’s London
walker different from ordinary walking behaviour of the crowds?
Trivia’s London walker is set apart from the crowd. As has be-
come clear, the walker sees himself clearly above the working class. Pro-
moting the “art” of walking, the walker hence strongly distinguishes be-
tween the “working class” and the “walking class” (cf. Brant 2007: 110).
Although of course the working class also has to walk, for the London
walker, this quotidian activity is elevated to a contemplative enterprise.
The walker, naturally, is situated at street level and thereby belongs to the
new discourse of perception that was slowly but steadily emerging during
142 3. The Art of Walking

that period and which is linked to the destruction brought by the Great
Fire of 1666, as I have shown previously:
Pre-fire maps were pictorial bird’s-eye-views […] in which buildings
and landmarks are privileged over topographical accuracy. They re-
produce virtually known space […] The early bird’s-eye-view cele-
brates the elevations of buildings, the visual details of structure, offer-
ing a totalizing possibility, a sense of visual control that offers the
viewer the illusion of a ‘celestial eye’ (Wall 1998: 80).
After the fire, London was virtually erased and other modes of perception
were demanded. Hence, the mode of perception changed from the voyeur-
istic bird’s-eye perception towards “the two-dimensional foundation lines
of post-fire maps that literally as well as figuratively represent blank
space, emptiness, the inexpressible” (ibid. 84). 141 The shift from the illuso-
ry celestial eye and the view from street-/ ground-level is evocative of de
Certeau’s distinction between voyeur and walker, as texts from the period
dealing with London for a great part aimed at filling the blank spaces left
by the fire and brought about by urbanisation. Trivia, as with the other
texts to be analysed in this study, is situated within that shift. Thereby, of
particular interest for the approach to literary psychogeography is the new
form of subjectivity that was part of this new discourse of perception (also
see Gregori 2005: 72) and that resulted in the creation of different urban
imaginaries of London. Subjectivity is connected to the dynamic view-
point of post-fire literary texts and Wall explains that such literary map-
pings were characterised by a grammar of motion (cf. Wall 1998: 84). 142
While I have examined how walking is emphasised non-textually in Triv-

In that connection, I have already referred to the difference between static topograph-
ical poetry and the dynamic viewpoint of the streetwalker.
This grammar of motion is reflected in a lot of titles, for example Defoe’s Tour of
Great Britain (1724-1727), John Macky’s A Journey (1723), A Trip Through the Town,
Containing Observations on the Humours of the Age (Anonymous, 1735) or A Midnight
Ramble (Anonymous, 1754; see chapter 6.2).
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 143

ia, in the following, I take a closer look at the London walker and his dy-
namic experience of the city.
The London walker at the centre of Trivia has also been called the
“metropolitan man” (Gregori 2005: 72). As explained previously, Trivia’s
full impact can only be understood if taking its context into consideration.
Early eighteenth-century London was in a state of continuous transfor-
mation and Gay’s London walker is situated within this change. This is
also the reason why Trivia is packed with countless different urban expe-
riences and observations. Given these premises, one could assume that the
London walker takes a position amidst the city and its inhabitants. His
position, however, is more complex than that. Set apart from the crowd
and highly affected by his urban surroundings at the same time, the walker
holds an ambiguous position. In contrast to Benjamin’s and Baudelaire’s
flâneur, Gay’s London walker is not the detached blasé who is unim-
pressed with his urban surroundings. The walker here has not yet had the
chance to become overly familiar with the city and therefore he does not
exhibit the 19th century flâneur’s insensitive, unaffected attitude. Never-
theless, he neither mingles nor becomes one with the crowd, hence like
the flâneur, he has an ambiguous position. The walker’s ambiguity mani-
fests itself in his curiosity towards everything that is happening on Lon-
don’s streets on the one hand, and in his carefully kept distance on the
other. In the following passage, for example, the walker is a distant ob-
server, but when his safety gap is threatened, he immediately retreats from
the scene:
Where Covent-garden’s famous Temple stands,
That boasts the Work of Jones’ immortal Hands;
Columns, with plain Magnificence appear,
And graceful Porches lead along the Square:
Here oft’ my Course I bend, when lo! From far,
I spy the Furies of the Foot-ball War:
144 3. The Art of Walking

The ‘Prentice quits his Shop, to join the Crew,

Increasing Crouds the flying Game pursue.
Thus, as you roll the Ball o’er snowy Ground,
The gath’ring Globe augments with ev’ry Round;
But whither shall I run? The Throng draws nigh,
The Ball now Skims the Street, now soars on high;
The dextrous Glazier strong returns the Bound,
And gingling Sashes on the Pent-house sound (I. 343-356).
Covent Garden seems to be an enjoyable area for the walker, for whom
the charm particularly lies in the area’s architecture. Its magnificent aura
is shattered when people start playing football. From afar, the walker ob-
serves the game thoroughly, as the number of lines indicates, but as soon
as the turmoil and the giant football draw nearer, the walker becomes pan-
icky. Exclamation and question marks in the middle of the line indicate
the walker’s uneasiness and the outcry “But whither shall I run?” tempo-
rarily interrupts the passage. Unfortunately, the reader never learns where
the walker eventually retreats to.143 The walker’s insecurity and panic
seem to be at odds with his otherwise self-confident behaviour. The foot-
ball passage is a good example how the walker’s urban surroundings have
an impact on him and, even if only temporarily, overthrow the walker’s
usual demeanour. Another instance of this, or what Gregori calls his “both
internal and external position” (Gregori 2005: 72) is the walker’s excur-
sion to a more unpleasant area of London:
[...] Here Steams ascend
That, in mix’d Fumes, the wrinkled Nose offend.
Where Chandlers Cauldrons boil, where fishy Prey
Hide the wet Stall, long absent from the Sea;
And where the Cleaver chops the Heifer’s Spoil,
And where huge Hogsheads sweat with trainy Oil,
Thy breathing Nostril hold; but how shall I

The transition between the football passage and the next is quite abrupt, as the next
episode is inscribed “An Episode of the Great Frost.”
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 145

Pass, where in Piles Cornavian Cheeses lye;

Cheese, that the Table’s closing Rites denies,
And bids me with th’unwilling Chaplain rise (II. 243-56).
The walker shows interest in this slightly less pleasant area of London,
describing stenches and unpleasant scenes of various trades (butchers,
fishmongers, chandlers). He is particularly struck with the cheeses, a reac-
tion that is somehow unexpected, given the walker’s self-assured manner.
On closer examination, Gay’s biographical background proves to be the
key to understanding the passage. From 1712-1714, Gay was employed as
secretary and domestic steward in the household of the Duchess of Mon-
mouth (see Nokes 1995). As was customary, stewards and chaplains were
excluded from cheeses and dessert in the houses of the rich144 (see
Brant/Whyman 2007: 230, Fairer and Gerrard 1999: 50), which for Gay
held a certain degree of humiliation. Transferring this autobiographical
experience onto the persona in Trivia, the walker, while passing the
cheeses, is reminded of the degradation and of the cheese’s delicacy at the
same time. The confrontation with the cheeses stirs up memories and
gives this scene a very personal dimension. Torn between stopping and
moving on (“But how shall I pass”), the walker eventually does not halt,
but keeps his distance, again rendering his conflict internal. The unpleas-
ant character of the “most inconvenient street” traversed in this passage
hence is twofold: The smells and sights are generally perceived as disa-
greeable, but the walker adds an individual dimension to it, connecting his
perception of the street with the humiliating experience of being excluded
from dinner, and not least of working as a steward for the rich. The nexus
between human psyche and geographical environment is therefore particu-

Chaplains had a status between servants and family and guests. Gay, although a domes-
tic steward, presumably had a more elevated status than usually ascribed to stewards,
but nevertheless was excluded from dessert.
146 3. The Art of Walking

larly distinguishable in this passage. Eventually, however, the desire to

leave the dirty area as soon as possible and to flee from his memories pre-
vails and the walker aspires to “bear me to the Paths of fair Pell-mell/ Safe
are thy Pavements, grateful is thy Smell” (II. 257-8).145
The two passages analysed previously are examples of the dérive
that Trivia’s London walker conducts, which I now examine more closely.
To begin with, the walker’s route lacks a clear destination. His intention
simply is “to range the Town” (II. 5) and so, the walker’s journey has nei-
ther a specific (spatial) starting point, nor a specific end point, nor pre-
determined halts in between. It should be noted, however, that the walker
has at least a temporal starting and end point, namely morning and night,
respectively. Still, the walker has no fixed concept as to the whence and
whither of his urban ramble. Instead, he lets himself be guided by his ur-
ban surroundings, or, using psychogeographical terminology, he lets him-
self be guided by the attractions of the terrain and encounters he finds
there. Principally, the attractions and encounters that influence the walk-
er’s route can be divided into three categories: weather, the crowd and
sensory experiences.
Trivia ascribes much importance to the weather, which has a great
impact on walking through the city. As “Winter my Theme confines” (II.
319), much of the weather descriptions concern frost and snow. That is
why the walking activity is often governed by precautions, such as “[…] if
thy Footsteps slide with clotted Frost, / Strike off the breaking Balls
against the Post” (II. 325-6) or “Oft’ look behind and ward the threatening
Pole” (II. 328). Nevertheless, occasional passages also briefly address

It should be noted that the actual topographical descriptions in Trivia are sometimes not
compatible with the imaginary route of the walker. Here, for instance, the walker claims
to be in Cheapside first, but due to the stench he changes his course towards Pall Mall,
which geographically is approximately two miles from Cheapside (cf. Drott 2014).
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 147

other weather conditions. In rainy weather, for example, while other Lon-
doners are spurting about, the walker’s route is temporarily interrupted by
overflowing gutters:
Others You’ll see, when all the Town’s afloat,
Wrapt in th’embraces of a Kersey Coat […]
While you, with Hat unloop’d, the Fury dread
Of Spouts high-streaming, and with cautious Tread
Shun ev’ry dashing Pool, or idly stop,
To seek the kind Protection of a Shop (I. 191-98)
Although it seems natural to seek shelter when the streets are flooded, the
walker is acutely aware of the effects of the weather on his walking activi-
ty. In general, the walker finds it useful to “From sure Prognosticks learn
to know the Skies” (I. 122). Interestingly, he never once suggests staying
indoors when the weather is bad. Instead, he advises: “Be thou, for ev’ry
Season, justly drest,/ Nor brave the piercing Frost with open Breast;/ And
when the bursting Clouds a Deluge pour,/ Let thy Surtout defend the
drenching Show’r” (I. 129-33). Reminding contemporary readers of the
saying, “there is no bad weather only bad clothing,” Trivia’s London
walker deliberately decides against avoiding bad weather. Wearing appro-
priate clothes, he lets the weather take its toll and, as a consequence, lets
the weather affect his walking.
More frequently, the walker’s dérive is influenced by the crowd.
Generally, all other Londoners in Gay’s poem do not appear as individu-
als, but as “a physically overwhelming and intimidating mass” that is “ev-
idence of the dehumanizing effect of life among so many strangers”
(Carter 2007: 33). The walker refers to the crowd as “mingling Press” (II.
27), “the jostling Crouds” (I. 3), “mixt Hurry” (III. 30), “rude Throng”
(III. 87) or “passing Train” (III. 90). The crowd, therefore, remains anon-
ymous and the walker remains alone, a preferable way for him of walking
through London’s streets. A companion would merely distract him from
148 3. The Art of Walking

his actual endeavour: “With thee conversing, I forget the Way” 146 (III.
480). Although the walker sees the crowd as an anonymous mass, from
time to time he singles out Londoners for closer inspection, only to come
to the conclusion that they interfere with his walking. And yet, the Lon-
doners remain nameless and faceless, as the walker pigeon-holes these
Londoners and bases his observations on prejudices:
The little Chimney-sweeper skulks along,
And marks with sooty Stains the heedless Throng;
When Small-coal murmurs in the hoarser Throat,
From smutty Dangers guard thy threaten’d Coat:
The Dust-man’s Cart offends thy Cloaths and Eyes,
When through a Street a Cloud of Ashes flies;
But whether Black, or lighter Dyes are worn,
The Chandler’s Basket, on his Shoulder born,
With Tallow spots thy Coat; resign the Way,
To shun the surly Butcher’s greasy Tray,
Butchers, whose Hands are dy’d with Blood’s soul Stain (II. 33-43).
It is obvious that the walker has no interest in the single person, but is
concerned only with how the different professions of other Londoners
may affect his walking. Certain tradesmen, such as the chandler, redirect
his route, while the chimney sweep causes the walker to sidestep around
him, influencing his dérive. Moreover, deliveries from porters, brewers or
carters, affect the walker’s route, because when approaching him he has to
manoeuvre around them with “rash steps, and walk without the Post” (II.
98). There are countless other passages in Trivia in which the walker’s
route is affected by the crowd; the next passage, often read as a key pas-
sage of Trivia147, will suffice to stress the point. The walker is particularly

An echo of Paradise Lost, where Eve says to Adam “With thee conversing I forget all
time” (cf. Brant/Whyman: 233).
See, for example, Hitchcock’s “Trivia and Public Poverty of Early Eighteenth-Century
London” (2007) that extensively deals with the shoeblack passage. Hitchcock also ex-
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 149

impressed by the shoeblack148, while at the same time knowing that “like
the sweet Ballad, this amusing Lay/ Too long detains the Walker on his
Way;/ While he attends, new Dangers round him throng;/ The busy City
asks instructive Song” (II. 217-20). The walker’s interest in the shoeblack
is very personal and decelerates his movement through London. Hearing
the shoeblack’s calls, the walker comes to a halt: “Hark! The Boy calls
thee to his destin’d Stand” (II. 101). Here, near the shoeblack’s stand, he
decides to bide awhile, clearly fascinated by this street figure.149 The
shoeblack episode very clearly shows how the walker is directed by feel-
ings that are invoked by his urban surroundings. The walker lingers
around the boy and is put in a state of alert reverie. In more than 100 extra
lines, he muses about the origin and godly creation of the shoeblack,
which is a fictionalised web of myths and sagas.
Finally, sensory experiences also play a huge role with regard to
the walker’s dérive. As I have explained in great detail in chapter 2.3,
eighteenth-century London was characterised by a diversity of smells,
sounds, sights and tastes. It is characteristic of literary psychogeography
to attribute a major role to sensory perceptions in urban surroundings, and
this is precisely what Trivia does. Entire passages are dedicated to the
senses, for example “How to know the Days of the Week” (II. 404 f.),
“Remarks on the Cries of the Town” (II. 424 f.) or “Of Christmas” (II.
437 f.). Generally, sensory perceptions help to decode the city, and the
walker explains why:

plains that Trivia is the first literary work that treats shoeblacking as a recognised pro-
fession, which had a huge impact on the (distorted) beliefs of its readers.
A long passage (II. 99-220) about the shoeblack that Gay added to the 1730 edition
proves his fascination with this figure.
It should be noted, however, that the excursion is not all that surprising, as contempo-
rary writers thought it necessary to insert passages of moral reflection into a georgic
poem (cf Brant/Whyman. 2007: 227).
150 3. The Art of Walking

Experience’d Men, inur’d to City Ways,

Need not the Calendar to count their Days.
Successive Crys the Season’s Change declare,
And mark the Monthly Progress of the Year.
Hark, how the Streets with treble Voices ring,
To sell the bounteous Product of the Spring!
Sweet-smelling Flow’rs, and Elders early Bud,
With Nettle’s tender Shoots, to cleanse the Blood
And when June’s Thunder cools the sultry Skies,
Ev’n Sundays are prophan’d by Mackrell Cries.

Wallnutts the Fruit’rer’s Hand, in Autumn, stain,

Blue Plumbs, and juicy Pears augment his Gain;
Next Oranges the longing Boys entice,
To trust their Copper-Fortunes to the Dice (II. 405-6; 425-36)
The connection between senses and knowledge was a prominent discourse
in the eighteenth century, as I have explained earlier with reference to
Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). As a conse-
quence, to interpret sensory perceptions is to know the city, and Trivia’s
walker uses the senses to read and understand his urban surroundings. A
combination of sounds and smells announces the arrival of different sea-
son, so that every season can be distinguished with the help of sensory
decoding. The description of sensory experiences is concentrated in the
preceding passage, but the senses ring through the entire poem (for in-
stance the episode “How to know the Days of the Week” II. 405 f), and
influence not only the walker’s route, but also the sense of place created in
the poem. Reading the episode above immediately changes the impression
of London that is mediated by the walker. Focusing on hazards and incon-
veniences most of the time, these lines provide a surprising deviation from
the walker’s general negative attitude towards the city. Here, in contrast,
the imagery transforms the streets of London from anonymous, unwel-
coming, crowded and hazardous into a warm, inviting, cheerful, “sweet-
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 151

smelling” and tender space. The sensory experiences create particular at-
mospheres or ambiances that are welcoming and comforting and which
continue throughout the following episode as well, where rosemary and
laurels announce the arrival of “Christmas, the joyous Period of the Year”
(II. 440). McWhir refers to this phenomenon as “the tone of particular
passages” (McWhir 2000: 93) that develops as a result of the city’s impact
on the walker and its effects upon him, triggered by being in certain places
at certain times. Sensory deictics, too, such as “Hark!,” “See” or “Lo!”
temporarily disrupt the walker’s movement, and the reader can well imag-
ine how the walker stops his pace and attentively absorbs smells, sounds
or sights. The walker, although generally displaying an arrogant and de-
tached attitude, is unable to withdraw from the variety of sensory experi-
ences he has along the way. This is characteristic of the dérive, where the
walker cannot entirely control his walking activity and instead is steered
by his urban surroundings. Hence, sensory perceptions play a crucial role
in affecting the walker’s route and in the creation of ambiances to which
the walker surrenders himself–at least temporarily. It is noteworthy that
on closer examination, the walker’s range of sensory experiences is also
evidence of his desire to remain detached from the crowd. While sight still
is the most dominant medium of perception in Trivia, sounds and smells,
too, play a major role. It is conspicuous, therefore, that the remaining two
senses, taste and touch, hardly play a part in the walker’s experiences.
Apart from one episode where he interrupts his walking to eat seafood
(“[…] where Oyster-Tubs in Rows/ Are rang’d beside the Posts; there stay
thy Haste,/ And with the sav’ry Fish indulge thy Taste”, III. 190-3), the
walker does not have physical contact with other Londoners or indulges in
gustatory adventures. Taste and touch are the two senses that only work in
152 3. The Art of Walking

very close proximity, with the latter even requiring physical contact. 150 I
have shown that the London walker consciously avoids such physical con-
tact, for example by changing his route, walking around other people and
staying well clear of touching Londoners. Hence, he purposefully restricts
these two senses, while the only thing he touches in Trivia is the ground.
The narrator’s walk is undeniably different from the classical notion of a
journey or stroll. Thus, his walk can be read as a dérive that is influenced
by external conditions that, in turn, affect the walker internally. While
walking, the urban surroundings interact with the walker’s body and mind.
Being confronted with changing ambiances created by weather, London-
ers or the senses, the walker literally and figuratively makes sense of the
city. His experiences are shaped by his subjective and individual encoun-
ter with the streets of London that create a unique vision of the city. His
course is directed by both the city and feelings invoked in him by the city;
we have seen that he allows external factors to have an effect on him,
while at the same time he projects his subjective impressions back onto
the city. In that way, his perception of the city is characterised by a recip-
rocal relationship between the walker’s mind and the city’s geography.
Trivia can be interpreted in a number of different ways. 151 As I
want to offer a reading of Gay’s poem that understands the text as literary
psychogeography, I, for the remainder of this subchapter, focus on some
of the other elements of literary psychogeography that also appear in Triv-
ia and that I have sketched in chapter 2.3. As I have argued earlier, dark
visions of the city often appear in literary psychogeography. This is also

For more on the topic see Sennett (1996), who offers a history of the city and the body
in Western civilization, tracing the role of the body in urban space from ancient Athens
to contemporary New York.
A number of different approaches to Trivia is offered in Clare Brant and Susan Why-
man’s collection of essays Walking the Streets of Eighteenth-Century London. John
Gay’s Triva (1716).
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 153

the case in Trivia, where all three strands of dark imagery can be found in
the text. Firstly, the poor and marginal are a big issue in Gay’s poem. The
long shoeblack episode indicates the walker’s fascination with this partic-
ular type of the poor, but is by far not the only reference to poverty in
eighteenth-century London. 152 By poor, the walker does not only mean the
penniless poor, but mainly those that work in “lower” trades, such as the
shoeblack, the prostitute or the street sweeper. In that way, Trivia helps to
create a new image of the poor who before were mostly reduced to street
beggars, rogues or vagabonds (cf. Hitchcock 2007: 86). Instead of focus-
ing on the “criminal” poor, the walker is more interested in the “econom-
ic” poor that worked but had meagre earnings. The “laborious poor,” as
Hitchcock calls them, were a crucial catalyst for London’s thriving econ-
omy. In that context, the poem establishes an interesting connection be-
tween the laborious poor and dirt and mud. Gay very probably knew
Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, and echoes his belief that poverty and dirt
were a necessary side-effect of economic prosperity. The walker’s associ-
ation of the poor with mud becomes obvious in the following passage:
When waggish Boys the stunted Beesom ply,
To rid the slaby Pavement; pass not by
E’er though hast held their Hands; some heedless Flirt
Will over-spread thy Calves with spatt’ring Dirt (II. 91-4).
As already shown, Trivia separates the walking class from the working
class and often does so with metaphors of dirt (cf. Brant 2007: 110).
While during the day, the impoverished are described as genuinely poor
and with a hint of pity, night transforms the poor into “lurking Thie[ves],

To see how Gay contributed to a set of stereotypes that had a huge impact on “the evo-
lution of social policy” and eventually “the creation of a malformed system of relief
that was ill-suited to the actual needs of poor Londoners” (Hitchcock 2007: 75; 86), see
Hitchcock’s essay on “Trivia and the Public Poverty of Early Eighteenth-Century Lon-
don” (2007).
154 3. The Art of Walking

who while the Day-light shone,/ Made the walls echo with his begging
Tone:/ That Crutch which late Compassion mov’d, shall wound/ Thy
bleeding Head, and fell thee to the Ground” (III. 135-38). Clearly, the de-
scriptions of the poor are strewn with stereotypes and prejudices, but they
make up a huge part of Trivia. As present as the poor are in the poem, re-
marks on noblemen or the King are just as absent. Reasons for that can
only be speculative: with the focus on walking, upper-class Londoners
would automatically disappear from the poem, as they most likely would
be traversing the city in a coach. Moreover, the walker presumably re-
frains from making observations on the upper class because he continu-
ously intends to present himself as a superior Londoner. By focusing the
attention on the lower classes, he remains higher ranking. Other works of
literary psychogeography intentionally focus on the underbelly of the city,
as analyses of Ned Ward’s and Tom Brown’s texts in chapter 5 show.
As outlined previously, the walker sometimes strays from the area
of the street into less-frequented areas. We have heard that sometimes, the
walker aspires to “leave the noisie Roads,/ And silent wander in the close
Abodes” (II. 217-8), walking into the maze and darker corners of Lon-
don’s streets. The decision to leave the open space of the street has differ-
ent motivations, ranging from the desire to flee the business of the street,
to curiosity with marginal areas or interest in nightly businesses and of-
fers. But the walker’s fascination with “bye streets” is confined to day-
light, as it is simply too dangerous to retreat to windy alleys after night-
Though you through cleanlier Allies wind by Day,
To shun the Hurries of the publick Way,
Yet ne’er to those dark Paths by Night retire;
Mind only Safety, and contemn the Mire (III. 127-30).
3.1. John Gay’s Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) 155

Thirdly, and finally, Trivia also contains some subtle echoes from the
Great Plague and, more prominently, the Great Fire that mirror the con-
temporary fear of impending natural catastrophes. References to the
plague, although scarce, occur in Book II and Book III, drawing attention
to the custom to mark the doors of houses in which people lay dying (II.
467 f., also see chapter 5). The remark “Hence sprung the fatal Plague that
thinn’d thy Reign” (III. 221) briefly revives the dreadful years of the
Great Plague. More outstanding, however, is a lengthy episode of “A
Fire” (III. 353-92) at the end of the poem. It is interesting that an episode
that paints such a disastrous image of the city is located at the end of the
text, leaving a slightly ominous aftertaste. Maybe the walker wants to em-
phasise the fragility of the metropolis and the fact that a prospering city is
by no means indestructible.
To conclude, Trivia can be regarded as a contribution to making
sense of an important period in the history of London. I have shown that
Gay’s Trivia shows elements of literary psychogeography. On his peram-
bulation, the London walker creates a particular vision of London that is
characterised by the walker’s own self-awareness, his position as a de-
tached but thorough observer, and the experiences in which he has im-
mersed himself in the streets of London. The result is an urban imaginary
of eighteenth-century London. The urban imaginary created in Trivia is
tied to a specific time in two dimensions, namely to the season of winter
and to day and night, respectively. Moreover, I would argue that Trivia is
very much linked to the time it was published in 1716. Written amidst the
rebuilding of London, Trivia addresses problems and urban developments
that newly defined life in London. Hence, Gay’s poem is rooted in this
156 3. The Art of Walking

specific period of time153, in contrast to Thelwall’s Peripatetic from the

1790s, which displays a completely different approach to the city and
walking. Hence, the walker’s experiences in Trivia rely as much on tem-
porality as on spatiality, tying his vision of London to a specific time and
place. The London walker as street-level agency absorbs and processes
anything happening in the city, lending a highly dynamic quality to his
experiences of London. Thus the walker’s interaction with other London-
ers, weather, and sensory experiences not only affects the walker’s
movement through the city, his dérive, but also creates different ambi-
ances that determine the particular tone of individual passages. The inter-
play of different experiences creates impressions that determine the quali-
ty of specific moments and that shape the urban imaginary. The poem is
thus both topographically real and subjectively imagined at the same time,
resulting in a blend of fact and fiction that enables its readers to engage
with someone else’s personal experiences of London’s streets. Moreover,
“walking reinvests streets with potential” (Bond 2007: 47) and enables the
London walker to really “sense space” (ibid.) Sensing London in all its
facets, the walker writes his own city text (cf. de Certeau 1984: 131),
stringing the detours and shifts in direction together to form his very own
London. The art of walking, therefore, becomes threefold: next to walking
as a pedestrian activity and walking as writing one’s own city, walking
also is a means of reading and knowing the city. Eighteenth-century Lon-
don as a city in the process of urbanisation and modernisation requires
decoding by reading the various new signs that London’s transformation
brings about. The walker is acutely aware of this task, seeing it necessary
“to read the various Warnings of the Skies” (II. 4), “How to know a
Whore” (III. 267 f.), “How to know the Days of the Week” (II. 405 f.),
Ned Ward’s London Spy and Tom Brown’s Amusements are also situated within this
period of transformation, as the analyses in chapter 5 will show.
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 157

and so on. The connection between reading and walking, however, has yet
another dimension that extends to the readers of Trivia: Readers mentally
follow the walker’s footsteps and his mind, making the walker’s route
through the city both geographical and psychological. I have explained at
length how the activity of walking as such is addressed on a number of
different levels in Gay’s poem. The walker’s contemplation of his peram-
bulation clearly distinguishes between walking as a pedestrian activity
whose main function is pragmatic and walking as a form of art that ena-
bles a profound interaction with the city as such. The way of walking in
Trivia lends a surreal quality to the city defined by the individual walker
and his subjective engagement with urban space. It bestows an imagina-
tive force on experiencing the streets of eighteenth-century London and in
that way clearly dissociates itself from a merely topographic account of
London. Trivia never aims at objectivity and instead provides readers with
a unique, vibrant vision of a city in a state of flux.

3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793)

John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic is a literary experiment that was widely

neglected until Judith Thompson’s first annotated edition from 2001. Prior
to that, it had only been reissued twice as facsimile prints in 1978 and
1984. Today, Thelwall, born in 1764, is primarily associated with his po-
litical work and his connection to Coleridge and Wordsworth. The latter
has recently fuelled discussions about whether Thelwall should be
acknowledged as a proto-Romantic writer without whom one can “not
understand Romanticism in sufficient depth” (Scrivener 2009). Indeed,
Thelwall’s impact on Coleridge and Wordsworth cannot be denied and
158 3. The Art of Walking

many of his works anticipate Romantic techniques associated with works

by Wordsworth. 154
The talents and interests of Thelwall were broad: being a silk
merchant, lawyer, political activist, writer, farmer, animal-rights activist,
medical man, speech therapist and historian at various stages of his life,
Thelwall did not follow a straight path. Throughout his life, he tried to
combine his various interests and ideals, merging, for instance, science
and politics to explore speech therapy or, in his own words, “enfran-
chisement of fettered organs”, hoping that “the medical man and philan-
thropist will not be insensible to the value of this new science” (Thelwall
1810: 9–10). Generally, Thelwall always sought after the greater impact
of his work, probably best reflected in his political activities: Thelwall
was initially educated as a Tory and Royalist. To a great extent fuelled by
the French Revolution, however, Thelwall became a radical left-wing re-
publican, a transformation that demanded overcoming his “arbitrary
chains of hereditary opinion” (Thelwall 2001 [1793]: 108). Hence,
Thelwall’s political position as Jacobin was as much an internal struggle
as it was a breaking free from his upbringing, and he remained a left-wing
activist throughout his life. In 1793, Thelwall joined the London Corre-
sponding Society, often called one of the first “working-class political
organisation[s] formed in Britain” (Thompson 1966: 20). The London
Corresponding Society, whose motto “that the number of our members be
unlimited” reflects the society’s principal aim to end any notion of politi-
cal exclusiveness, was constantly threatened by its “revolutionary chal-

Passages in The Peripatetic, for instance the episode “A Childish Retrospect,” antici-
pate Wordsworth’s epiphanic “spots of time” (see chapter 8) that form the core of his
Prelude (cf. Thompson 2001: 46). What is more, Thelwall often explores issues of class
stereotypes in his works which influenced Wordsworth’s “portraits of rustic pathos”
(ibid. 406). For a more detailed discussion on Thelwall and Wordsworth see Corfield
2012 and Thompson 2012.
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 159

lenge” to induce “a new notion of democracy” (ibid. 22). With John

Thelwall, the L.C.S. gained an important and influential member, and his
speeches and lectures became notorious, attracting vast crowds. In his
speeches, Thelwall advocated basic reform principles: freedom of speech,
freedom of political opinion, universal suffrage and property reform (cf.
Thompson 2001: 15). In 1794, Thelwall and other members of the society
were arrested for treason and spent some months in the Tower of London
and Newgate. Much to the relief of the public, however, Thelwall and the
others were acquitted (see Thompson 1966: 20f., Roe 2004). Two so-
called “Gagging Acts” of 1795, however, further oppressed the reform
movement by prohibiting political public meetings of more than 50 peo-
ple, thereby attempting to avoid seditious movements in the kingdom.
Thelwall, unwilling to surrender his political principles, continued to give
political lectures under the veil of neutral topics such as classical history.
Eventually, however, Thelwall could not withstand the political suppres-
sion and temporarily retired to the country. There, he went on walking
tours alone or occasionally with his acquaintances Coleridge and Words-
worth, an assembly which Thelwall always referred to as “the most philo-
sophical party” (cited in Roe 2007: 75). 155 In 1801, Thelwall resumed his
career as a lecturer in London, turning his attention to speech therapy.
Although never entirely turning away from politics, Thelwall’s political
involvement was at its peak in the 1790s. The Peripatetic, published at the
beginning of the 1790s, one year before he joined the L.C.S., therefore
reflects Thelwall’s “growing profile in radical circles” (Thompson 2001:

Thelwall describes these meetings as “the most philosophical party” in a letter to his
wife from 18th July 1797.
160 3. The Art of Walking

Like Trivia, the ambiguous title of The Peripatetic deserves some closer
inspection as it evokes associations with the Peripatetic School of philos-
ophy in Ancient Greece on the one hand, and the activity of travelling on
the other. The Peripatetic School, founded circa 335 BC, evolved around
Aristotle and his philosophical teachings. 156 Etymologically, peripatetic is
derived from the Greek peripatos (“covered walkway”), the name of the
place where the Peripatetics met, as well as peripatetikos, which describes
the activity of walking. In today’s understanding of the word, “peripatet-
ic” can be used as a noun, describing “a student or follower of Aristotle,”
“a person who walks about,” “movements to and fro or from place to
place” (peripatetic, n. and adj. 2014), as well as an adjective in the same
senses. Figuratively, it is also used to describe a “rambling” speech or
piece of writing (ibid.), but most commonly today, “the term has evolved
to [be] appl[ied] to any act of itinerant wandering or meandering” (Cover-
ley 2012: 23). Interesting for this study is the fact that the term peripatetic
connects philosophy and walking and used as the main title for Thelwall’s
work, The Peripatetic invites readers on a philosophical ramble. Read as
literary psychogeography, The Peripatetic provides a pedestrian excursion
that is strongly influenced by Jacobin thought and by the notion of walk-
ing as an art.
The main protagonist of The Peripatetic is Sylvanus The-
ophrastus, whose name yet again establishes a link to the Aristotelian
School, as Theophrastus was Aristotle’s successor in the Peripatetic
School. His first name, Sylvanus, is the name of a Roman woodland deity.
In the persona of Sylvanus Theophrastus, therefore, Thelwall intertwines

As it would extend the scope of this book to look at the origin and development of the
Peripatetic School in detail, I like to recommend de Vogel’s Aristotle, the Early Peripa-
tetic School and the Early Academy (1953) for further reading on the topic.
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 161

philosophy and nature, neatly summarising the principal tone and style of
The Peripatetic. Looking at the entire title of Thelwall’s work not only
reveals more on the text’s contents, but also something about its structure:
The Peripatetic; Or, Sketches of the Heart, of Nature and Society; In a
Series of Politico-Sentimental Journals, In Verse and Prose of the Eccen-
tric Excursions of Sylvanus Theophrastus, Supposed to Be Written by
Himself. The title alludes to the generic diversity of the text: combining
verse and prose, as well as arraying sketches, Thelwall called himself a
“literary adventurer” (Thelwall 1801: xviii), which makes the generic ex-
periment of The Peripatetic, reflected in the title, a little less surprising.
Thus, having had an “interest in exploring the aesthetic potential of the
medley or miscellany format, crossing the borders between the periodical
and the novel” (Thompson 2001: 20), The Peripatetic is “moral and satiri-
cal miscellany, Jacobin novel, sentimental journey, autobiographical nar-
rative, and travel guide” (ibid. 22) all at once. In combining different gen-
res, The Peripatetic does not raise the claim for exclusiveness, but instead
supports Thelwall’s reformist political ideal of extending rights (and liter-
ature) to the multitude. 157 Sylvanus hence “embodies the sympathetic re-
sponsiveness with the downtrodden and dispossessed that Thelwall be-
lieved should be felt by the whole nation” (Solomonescu 2014: 42). 158
Echoing Thelwall’s democratic ideals, Sylvanus becomes a walker who
attempts to dissolve social borders, engaging in free converse and diverse
social encounters along his way (cf. Thompson 26).

In this respect, The Peripatetic opposes Edmund Burke’s theory of knowledge as exclu-
sive possession, who, with regard to literature argued that literature should not be
“trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude” (Burke 1969: 173, also see
Thompson 2001: 26 f.).
It should be added that Sylvanus is not entirely consistent with his sympathetic and
charitable behaviour. For more on the matter see Solomonescu 2014.
162 3. The Art of Walking

The “politico-sentimental,” as alluded to in the title, also picks up

Thelwall’s aspiration to contribute to social change and serves as one ma-
jor framework for The Peripatetic. The text is situated in the context of
the sentimental movement that developed in the latter half of the eight-
eenth century and that stood in stark contrast to the Enlightenment Age of
Reason. As a response and counter movement to urbanisation and its con-
sequences, anonymity in particular, sentimentalism and the ability to show
emotions like compassion became an indicator of being a morally good
person whereas it mostly had been regarded as a sign of weakness before.
Thus, from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, sentimentalism shaped
the conception of man and became an individual and perfectible tool of
sociality (cf. Berensmeyer 2007: 406) that was threatened by modernisa-
tion and the industrial revolution.159 Self-reflexively, literature from that
time consistently questioned the sincerity and implementation of the sen-
timental movement. Translating compassion into action was almost non-
existent; instead, sentimentalism was more compensatory and mostly uti-
lised to ease one’s conscience (cf. ibid.). Accordingly, Mackenzie’s Man
of Feeling (1771) is soon (anonymously) parodied as a Man of Failing
(1789), someone who sits idle although he is deeply compassionate.
Thelwall’s The Peripatetic toys with sentimentalism, providing an inter-
esting mixture of sentimental narrative and both criticism and parody of
the movement. For that purpose, and as a means of stringing its individual
sketches together, The Peripatetic introduces the sentimental narrative
framework160 of the character Belmour and his love quest Sophia. Bel-
mour is a lone wanderer whom Sylvanus encounters on his journey vari-
Laurence Sterne’s novel A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768) is
generally regarded as one of the key literary texts in the sentimental movement.
What is more, the framework of the romantic plot, not originally intended, quite prag-
matically also served “that it might afford a prospect of more extensive circulation” (P.
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 163

ous times, a typical sentimental hero, overwhelmed by feelings and mel-

ancholy, but failing to act on his sentiments. Sylvanus, witnessing Bel-
mour’s sensibility, uses his acquaintance’s state to fall into reflections of
sentiment. For him, sentiment should “become the foundation for social
conscience and the impetus for political change” (Thompson 2001: 30)
and should be used to inquire into the causes of the suffering that causes
sentiments and compassion. Ultimately, however, in Sylvanus’ view, sen-
timent only causes self-absorption, passiveness, or the inability to reflect,
and thus stands in the way of social change. Sylvanus himself overcomes
sentimental rigidity by acting on feelings of compassion and thus becomes
an example of “lived” sentiment. Consequently, one of The Peripatetic’s
many goals is
a satiric critique of sensibility, seeing individual affectation and emo-
tional excess not as simply self-indulgent but as socially destructive,
part of a sentimental economy that creates suffering in order to satisfy
the market for sympathy (Thompson 2001: 31).
Sylvanus is thus not just an observant wanderer, but socially engages with
his surroundings. Noticing other people’s behaviour, most often Bel-
mour’s, he adjusts his own behaviour and involvement accordingly, coun-
teracting other people’s actions that strike him as insensitive.
The Peripatetic contains three volumes. Each volume takes a
journey as its framework: Volume I161 covers a walk around the southern
suburbs of London, Volume II is titled “Excursion to Rochester” while in
Volume III, Sylvanus undertakes an “Excursion to Saint Albans.” While
each volume is framed by a journey in itself, the structure and generic mix
reflect Sylvanus’ walking in a similar way as the division in books and
sign-posts in Trivia. Each volume consists of numerous sketches, most of
them rather short, with titles as diverse as “The Lark” (I), “Ode to the
In contrast to Volume II and III, Volume I does not have an individual title.
164 3. The Art of Walking

American Republic” (I), “Welling.[sic]-Pleasures of Mental Acquisition”

(II), “The Gipsies” (III) or “Epistle to Mercutio” (III). As for the distinc-
tion, Thelwall concedes to using the narrative technique of titled subchap-
ters, but nevertheless distances himself from any other literary conven-
tions the reader might expect:
Divisions of some kind, in a work of any length, are so convenient to
the reader, (serving, as Fielding has, I believe, somewhere expressed
it, for inns and resting places on the road,) […] rousing the attention to
every change of subject, have so many advantages over the arbitrary
and usual distinctions of book and chapter, (especially in a work of so
digressive a nature as the present) that it was impossible to hesitate in
the adoption of such a mode of arrangement. But if the reader should
look for any farther imitation of that truly singular writer, it is but fair
to apprise him that he will be disappointed (P. 71).
As in Trivia, Thelwall asserts topical and metaphorical sign posts to guide
the reader along Sylvanus’ journey, here in the form of individual titles
for the sketches. In that way, Sylvanus equates walking with reading: The
text becomes the road which has to be travelled via reading, while the di-
versions serve as resting places. In that way, Thelwall calls attention to the
manner in which The Peripatetic should be read: In order to be able to
comprehend the walker’s movements and contemplations, The Peripatetic
requires a reader who is willing to be attentive and to get involved with
Sylvanus’ literal and metaphorical movements. For that matter, he directly
addresses the necessity of providing a reading guide in the form of indi-
vidual chapter headings, especially in a work that promises to be as “di-
gressive” as The Peripatetic. What is more, in some passages beyond the
introduction, Sylvanus again directly addresses his readers, as for instance
in a letter that reads:
Gentle Reader,
If, in the foregoing digressions, I should appear, according to thy bet-
ter judgement, to have wandered too far from the point, thou wilt be
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 165

kind enough to remember, that, as I am only a foot traveller, the bye

path to the right and left is always as open to me as the turnpike road:
and that if […] I have been rambling somewhat too long among the
fields and green allies of poetical digression, thou art, nevertheless,
bound in gratitude to excuse me, since I have been induced so to do
purely for thy sake, and to give thee to understand […] what sort of a
fellow he is who professes to entertain thee […] (P. 123).
Here again, Sylvanus compares walking with reading, not only emphasis-
ing the entertaining function of literature, but also justifying his various
digressions that, at first glance, seem to make the text disorderly and hard
to follow. Indeed, digressions of various kinds dominate the text. These
excursions, both literary and literally, most often manifest themselves in
an abrupt shift from prose to poetry.162
A textual break is usually an indicator of change in Sylvanus’ pedes-
trian movement and, simultaneously, in a change of mind. Looking at
some exemplary passages from The Peripatetic, it becomes clear that Syl-
vanus often lapses into a state of alert reverie that interrupts his walking.
These frequent states of reverie that Sylvanus finds himself in can only be
triggered by walking, a fact that Sylvanus is acutely aware of himself:
Walking, he says,
left me at liberty to indulge the solitary reveries of a mind, to which
the volume of nature is ever open at some page of instruction and de-
light; - In one respect, at least, I may boast of a resemblance to the
simplicity of the ancient sages: I pursue my meditations on foot, and
can find occasion for philosophic reflection, wherever yon fretted
vault (the philosopher’s best canopy) extends its glorious covering (P.
Walking, Sylvanus seeks a particular state of mind which he calls “philo-
sophic reflection” and “solitary reveries of a mind,” alluding to Rous-

The poetry is various and includes, for instance, sonnets, odes or ballads. See, for in-
stance, “Shooter’s Hill – Flights of Fancy” (P. 164f.), “The Maniac” (P. 236f.), “The
Monastery” (P. 188f.) or “A Retrospect” (P. 286f.).
166 3. The Art of Walking

seau’s Reveries d’un Promeneur Solitaire. Sylvanus deliberately chooses

pedestrian activity because of its simplicity and its potential to put him
into this state that can only be reached while walking. He expects his sur-
roundings to play freely upon his mind, putting him in a state of day-
dreaming in which he finds occasion to process what his environment has
to offer him. In that respect, Sylvanus lets his mind wander wherever his
surroundings lead him, alluding to the uncontrollability of his musings.
Being affected by his surroundings, which in the text appear as descrip-
tions in prose form, Sylvanus falls into contemplations and reflections that
appear as poetry in the text. Accordingly, the passage just quoted is fol-
lowed by a four-stanza ode contemplating the classical old sages. As the
state of alert reverie is often a double presence in the imagination and in
the present, Sylvanus not only muses about Aristotle and Plato as such,
but projects the ancient philosophers’ glories onto his geographical sur-
roundings and on his state of being:

- Immortal Sages!
Ye noblest benefactors of mankind!
Unworthy as I am to lift my soul
To thoughts of your beatitude, or hope,
In this degenerate superstitious age
To emulate your glories, and revive
Those awful traits of unassuming wisdom
These fields, these hedge-rows, and this simple turf,
Shall form my Academus: through this vale,
(Ye hallow’d names of the boasts of Greece!) [sic.]
Thro’ this low vale will I suppose ye walk’d
Pouring divine instruction, or, reclin’d
Upon these verdant hillocks, musing deep,
The silent energy of soul collected,
And soar’d, on Contemplation’s awful wing,
Into the highest heaven. Plato here [sic.]
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 167

His mystic visions, daringly sublime!

[…] (P. 78-9).
This “train of reflection” (P. 80), as Sylvanus calls the digression, is fol-
lowed by another episode of prose in which he continues contemplating
the education of ancient philosophers in comparison to education in
“modern times” (ibid.). Here, Thelwall’s political ideals once more reso-
nate from the text: “If mute are the sages of antiquity” to the common
man, “the instructive voice of Nature is ever eloquent and loud” (ibid.),
with trees, groves, fields and shrubs inviting “intellectual exercise” for
everyone. Thelwall argues that even if lacking a classical education, walk-
ers of any rank are able to fall into philosophical digressions (about na-
ture, for instance), in consequence “render[ing] even the idle walk not
vain” (ibid.). The change from Greek philosophy to nature yet again trig-
gers a train of reflection, contemplations on nature and the latter’s power
to trigger reveries of the mind. In general, Sylvanus uses various terms to
describe his recurring states of reverie, such as “musings” (P. 90), “reflec-
tions” (P. 194), “contemplations” (P. 86), “reverie” (P. 90), “meditations”
(P. 86), or “excursions” (P. 289). The shift between prose representing
Sylvanus’ walking activity and poetical interruptions representing states
of alert reverie is a pattern that runs through the whole of The Peripatetic.
Although it is at its strongest in Volume I, where Sylvanus is still under-
taking his journey alone, it continues through Volumes II and III when he
is joined by his friends Ambulator163 (an allusion to the periodical The
Ambulator) and, intermittently, Belmour.164

Ambulator actually already meets Sylvanus at the end of Volume I, but only Volume II
and III are marked by their joint journey.
Because of his two friends, Sylvanus’ planned journey is postponed several times,
much to the latter’s disappointment: “A day was accordingly fixed for our departure;
but was not accordingly adhered to […] Disappointment trod on the heels of disap-
pointment” (P. 289-90).
168 3. The Art of Walking

The textual and psychological digressions not only reflect the

walker’s route and state of mind, but also function as transitions. At first
glance, the array of sketches often seems arbitrary, but on closer inspec-
tion, it appears that the individual episodes often blend into one another.
As, for example, the two sketches “The Beggar” and “The Hay-Maker”
(P. 84 f.), an episode which also demonstrates the criticism of sentimen-
talism and the appeal for translating compassion into action that I have
discussed earlier. The sight of two “idle fellows lying alone among the
grass” (ibid.) causes Sylvanus to remember a recent attack of a beggar at
night time, which in turn leads him to ponder the guardian shield of day-
light under which “we dread to perpetrate those crimes” (P. 86). In the
next sketch, he encounters a labouring man pleading for charity. Blinded
by his recently fuelled aversion to “professional beggary, […] the vicious
profession of indolence and hypocrisy” (P. 86), he first passes on, but af-
ter contemplating poverty and compassion in a short poem, eventually
turns around and acts on his sentiment by giving the man a few coins.
Here, the sentimental movement directly appears as a response to the in-
creasing urbanity in the course of the eighteenth century: Sylvanus’ en-
counter with the atrocious robber had happened in London. Passing the
hay-maker outside the metropolis, Sylvanus is emotionally moved by the
man’s poverty and (re-)acts accordingly. Referring back to the transition
of the two episodes, the beginning of “The Hay-Maker” smoothly links
the two sketches:
The association of ideas naturally led me from the above circumstance
to the remembrance of another […] I was taking one day […] my
wonted, solitary ramble by the banks of the New River, across some
pleasant fields, several miles on the other side of London, at no very
considerable time after the accident above alluded to, when I was ac-
costed by a labouring man, in tolerably decent attire, but who, with a
pathetic voice, pleaded for charity (P. 86).
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 169

The sketch of the hay-maker is also a good example to observe the em-
bodiment of Sylvanus’ walking and the way his physical movements are
influenced not only by his surroundings but also his train of thoughts: Ini-
tially passing “silently on, pursuing [his] road” (ibid.), Sylvanus starts
thinking about the poor man and his plea for help, and the more he does
so, the more he comes to the conclusion that the hay-maker is undeserving
of Sylvanus’ ignorance. During the episode, Sylvanus’ thoughts pass from
his mind to his body, eventually bringing him to “turn[..] instantly round,
[his] hand, sympathizing with the feelings of my heart […] went immedi-
ately and instinctively to my pocket” (P. 87). Throughout his journey,
Sylvanus generally lets himself be guided by his surroundings and the at-
tractions and encounters he finds there. His pedestrian movement can thus
be described as a psychogeographical dérive. Unlike Trivia’s walker,
however, Sylvanus has a fixed endpoint to his excursion. But, as we have
seen, the set destination in The Peripatetic does not imply smooth or tar-
geted walking in any way. Hence, Thelwall deliberately refrains from call-
ing the walker’s rambles “journey,” instead using the word “excursion” as
volume titles and thus emphasising the irregular, ambulatory character of
Sylvanus’ pedestrian movement. Throughout his excursions, Sylvanus is
willing to render himself to his surroundings, absorbing the topography
around him:

[A]s roving, excursively, from these to a variety of other reflections, I

pursued my tranquil and cheerful way along the fields, and smiled to
behold, at irregular distances, to the right, and to the left, the clouds of
dust that marked the winding courses of the roads (P. 81).
Another example reads:
I was walking solitarily across the fields towards Dulwich […] The
sky had, during the whole morning, displayed the most beautiful va-
riety; and the sun now darting his beams over the clear refulgent az-
170 3. The Art of Walking

ure, now breaking in interrupted majesty through the scattered clouds,

enriched, with all the sweet diversities of flying shadows and return-
ing tints of vivid light, the beautiful scenery […] Such was the com-
placency of mind with which I expatiated on every surrounding ob-
ject, that it seemed as though nothing could have added to the fullness
of tranquil delight that occupied my imagination (P. 126).
Sylvanus’ surroundings radiate calmness and impose upon him a state of
tranquillity that in this sketch is further sharpened by two sensory sensa-
tions: a “drizzling shower” and “the wild shrill strain of an aspiring lark”
(ibid.). Both immediately affect Sylvanus’ walk:
I slackened my pace, I turned, again and again, to every point of the
compass […] I stray[ed] slowly and unwillingly, with many a pause,
listening, with sweet enthusiasm, to the high-poised songster (P. 127).
During his walks, Sylvanus’ surroundings as well as his contemplations
create situations or ambiances. These situations are, like the sketches of
The Peripatetic, of great variety and, as I have shown, usually blend into
each other. Sylvanus actually uses the word “situation” himself and states
that he, while walking, often lingers at one particular situation, before
moving on to another, for example: “I continued for a considerable time,
in this situation, till the sun verging toward the western horizon, warned
me to refresh myself with a frugal repast” (P. 101). The thing that contin-
uously links these situations and digressions is Sylvanus’ pedestrian
movement. Therefore, the framework of the walking excursions in The
Peripatetic is an ideal organising principle for Thelwall, “allowing him to
introduce digressions, interruptions and juxtapositions casually and natu-
rally, following the wanderings of both his feet and his mind” (Thompson
2001: 33). Walking, therefore, just like in Trivia, is the thread that holds
The Peripatetic together and that also serves as a framework for readers to
be able to follow the walkers’ paths.
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 171

Moreover, Sylvanus’ excursions can be understood as a grid

Thelwall uses to comment on national and international affairs, history,
commerce, (in)equality, class allegiance or public opinion in general (cf.
Thompson 2001: 34). The topography of Sylvanus’ path is thereby less
precise than in Trivia, where the walker steers his course through central
London. The Peripatetic, by contrast, is characterised by rambles that are
set in the suburbs of London, with the final destination of Sylvanus’ ex-
cursions to Rochester (Volume II) and St. Albans (Volume III), both a
considerable – but still walkable – distance from London. The Peripatetic
is clearly characterised by Sylvanus’ love of nature, which is not altogeth-
er surprising considering the time in which it was written. Understood as a
pre-Romantic text, nature and retreat to the countryside feature strongly in
The Peripatetic. Nevertheless, Sylvanus is moving within what in the late
eighteenth century was already regarded as the suburbs of London, for
Sylvanus’ rambles cover the interface of rural and urban London areas
that formed a new suburban environment at the end of the eighteenth cen-
tury (see McKellar 2013). Following an argument by McKellar, I under-
stand the topography of The Peripatetic as belonging to a “Greater Lon-
don,” a conception that already existed at the end of the eighteenth centu-
ry (cf. McKellar 2013, also see Wall 2003: 282). Hence, urban identities
were not only constructed within the built environment of London’s his-
torical core, but extended to the areas and villages around London as well
(also see McKellar 1999: 496).165 Thelwall’s The Peripatetic thus stands

The expanding notion of London’s topography is also reflected in eighteenth-century
tour guides or guide books: While in the first half of the century, guides such as
Strype’s updated Survey of London (1720) or Defoe’s Tour (1724-1726) contained sep-
arate chapters describing the environs of London, the second half of the eighteenth-
century witnessed the publication of tour guides entitled London and its Environs De-
scribed (written by Robert Dodsley in 1761), The Ambulator: Or, a Pocket Companion
in a Tour Round London (Lobb, 1780-1820), or The Environs of London, Being An His-
torical Account (Daniel Lyson, 1792-96).
172 3. The Art of Walking

in a tradition which understood London as not only consisting of its his-

torical core, but that also included the rural areas beyond London in its
conception of the English capital. In the text, Sylvanus does not wander in
the countryside, a term most often associated with Wordsworthian coun-
trysides such as the Lake District, but in a geographical area that can be
understood as the interface of the rural and the urban. And although Syl-
vanus and his fellow wanderers seem to perceive city and country as bina-
ry terms, London always remains a point of reference throughout The Per-
ipatetic. At times it even seems like Sylvanus and his fellow travellers try
to convince themselves of the purity of the countryside they are travelling
through, although they always remain in visibility of London. At one
point, for instance, Sylvanus very explicitly describes how he perceives
London with regard to its rural suburbs:
Indeed, the town […] is hence surveyed with peculiar advantages; and
together with the rich arborescent foreground, the winding river, for-
ests of masts, and beautiful variety of vernal scenery that fills the in-
termediate space, and the blue hills of Essex and Hertfordshire, that
rise behind it and form the pleasing boundary of vision, composes a
picture which […] nothing could possibly surpass (P. 163).
Consequently, the suburban area around London is very distinctly charac-
terised by elements of both country and city. What is more, London as
such does not have clear geographical boundaries and hence no defined
edges, except for the boundary of vision, or, in other words, as far as the
eye can see. Hence, Sylvanus’ musings about the city are a prominent
theme in The Peripatetic, but instead of marvelling at the wonders of the
metropolis, he seeks to escape its bustling core, retreating to the city’s
suburban areas, taking advantage of the calmness and quietness these are-
as around London have to offer. But still, the bustling core of the city al-
ways remains Sylvanus’ point of reference: Arriving in Deptford, for in-
stance, Sylvanus explains the town’s topographical location by stating that
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 173

it is situated “about four miles from London bridge” (P. 143). But he goes
even further than this by arguing that on his travels, the spirit of the city is
always with him: “all the principal roads […] convey her [London’s] vic-
es and follies to the distant provinces” (P. 337). Although it is quite obvi-
ous that central London’s spirit does not hold much pleasure for Sylvanus,
he cannot escape it entirely. Throughout his rambles, therefore, the city is
always present in Sylvanus’ mind166, causing meditative contemplations
or verbal outbursts, as in the following passage:
London, that gloomy, but pompous, monument of departed simplicity!
– London, that grave of health and picturesque beauty! – London, that
busy haunt of avarice, dissipation, and deception (P. 337).
Here, Sylvanus hints at the countryside’s advantages of good health and
beautiful landscape, a quality he repeatedly contrasts with the state of the
Contemplating the distant prospect of green-swelling hills, that rushed
immediately upon our view, and enjoying the enfranchisement of vi-
sion from the dull captivity of brick walls and square panes of glass,
we were not a little pleased to observe the road so free from dust, and
all the concomitant inconveniences so hostile to the eyes and feet of
the pedestrian (P. 132).
In London’s rural areas, the senses are freed 167, allowing for ever more
intense contemplations and musings. In The Peripatetic, it is only the ru-
ral scenery of Greater London that triggers experiences and sensations
that put the walker in a state of alert reverie. As opposed to Trivia’s walk-
er, where the bustling streets with their crowds, signs and posts cause psy-

A reason for this might be that Sylvanus “had, at that time, a neat, though humble little
cottage, in the vicinity of the metropolis” (P. 107). Sylvanus thus has at least a material
connection to London.
The freeing of the senses does not only apply to vision. In “The Vernal Shower” (Vol-
ume I, p. 125), for instance, Sylvanus is awe-struck by a drizzling shower that regaled
every sense with “additional delight” (P. 126), including smell and sound.
174 3. The Art of Walking

chogeographical experience, Sylvanus is not able to contemplate in such

urban surroundings:
The lover of rural scenery, who not satisfied with the knowledge to be
gained from innhouse signs and directing posts, takes the trouble to
deviate from the road, that he may observe their more retired graces
(P. 143).
One such example for Sylvanus’ love of rural scenery is an episode during
which he arrives at Greenwich. Sylvanus projects his affectation for na-
ture onto the urban view that presents itself there, creating a romantic,
almost idealist vision of the dockyards of Greenwich:
The unpleasant parts of these reflections168 were, however, for a while,
banished from my mind, upon entering a large dock-yard to which I
had now, by a quickened pace, arrived. The bustle of industry, and the
grand objects immediately presented to my view, engrossed entirely
my imagination; and as I had never before taken the opportunity of in-
dulging my curiosity, by inspecting works of this nature, reflection
was entirely absorbed in the contemplation of a new variety of sub-
lime and stupendous edifices, which, like floating towns, were to
transport their various productions and inhabitants from clime to
clime. Some, perhaps, destined to touch at new and undiscovered
shores, and bring home accounts of manners and customs yet strange
to European ears; others, perhaps, together with the articles of trafic
[sic.], to convey the lights of science into despotic empires (P. 94).
Conventionally associated with industry, commerce and matters of ex-
port/import, Greenwich, in this passage, is viewed through romantic and
idealistic lenses.169 Sylvanus is affected by the dockyards and the ships
anchoring there. Here, the shift towards Romanticism is particularly no-
ticeable: in an attempt to counteract demographic growth, urbanisation
Before this episode, Sylvanus had been reflecting on England’s war with France fol-
lowing the execution of the French king in 1793.
Another romantic illusion of the Thames can be found in a sketch called “Shooter’s Hill
– Flights of Fancy,” in which the river is described as “Imperial Thames, with more
majestic sweep,/ Wafts the fraught vessel o’er a wider stream,/ And pours a flood of
glory to the deep/ […]” (P. 164 f.).
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 175

and industrialism by idealising nature and emphasising aesthetic experi-

ences of the latter, the description of the dockyards is an indicator of early
Romanticism. The sight of the docks triggers wild imaginations of un-
known lands and exotic customs in Sylvanus, who says of himself that he
always held a fascination with things “less familiar, and consequently
more attractive to the imagination” (P. 163). Standing at Greenwich he
lets his mind ramble, falling yet again into a state of alert reverie, and pro-
jecting his own idealistic vision upon his geographical surroundings.
There are further passages in The Peripatetic in which Sylvanus
and his fellow travellers view the city from the suburbs that deserve closer
examination. Such is the case, for instance, in a sketch titled “Highgate
Hill” in which the walkers take in the city from their geographical position
at Highgate, to the north west of London’s city centre. From there, Lon-
don has a particular effect on the walkers; in fact, two such very different
effects are juxtaposed in this sketch, emphasising the subjectivity of the
experience. One of the walkers, Wentworth, is visibly awestruck by the
appearance of London and exclaims:
I cannot help observing […] that from the manner in which, after a
short absence, this scene once rushed upon my imagination, and the
strong sensations of delight with which it irradiated, for awhile, the
sullen despondency of my soul, I am convinced, that if a person of
keen, observing mind, who had been unused to the concourse and
magnificence of extensive towns, were brought unexpectedly to this
spot, and shown, from the aerial brow of this eminence, the vast ma-
jestic city, queen of commerce and of arts! stretching herself, with all
her unwieldy suburbs, over the extensive plains below, the impression
of grandeur and power it would irresistibly make, would be such as
few other scenes could equal (P. 296).
The city, personified as queen by Wentworth, overwhelms the viewer and
has the power to temporarily lift the spirit of the heavyhearted walker
coming across this geographical spot. Notably, however, the city only
176 3. The Art of Walking

seems to have such an effect on those who have been away from the city
for some time or who have not experienced city life at all. Thus, having
been away “for better than two months in a distant part of the country” (P.
297), London’s effect on Wentworth is overpowering:
No sooner did I behold the vast metropolis expanding beneath my
feet, far to the right and to the left – see turrets, spires, and cupolas,
thronging in pompous vassalage round yon still more magnificent
dome, than wonder and delight rushed immediately upon my heart,
and triumphed, for a while, over every other impression (P. 297).
As a consequence, London only has this overwhelming effect from a dis-
tance; not only from a geographical distance, but also from a social, indi-
vidual and temporal distance, which makes Wentworth’s vision of the city
highly illusive. In contrast to the city’s romantic and illusory impact on
Wentworth stands another walker’s (probably Ambulator’s) impression of
Our philosopher, however, was so far from agreeing with this [Went-
worth’s] sentiment […] Nothing to him appears so odious, however
distant, as the prospect of a great city. Turrets and thronging spires fill
him with nothing but disgust, nor will he admit that there can be any
pretensions to beauty in any landscape, in which even the prospect of
the cupola of St. Paul’s […] is intruded (P. 296).
This second impression of London as seen from Highgate Hill proceeds
from a city-aversive perspective. The impact of London on the second
walker is characterised by disgust and repulsion rather than wonder and
awe. In this vision, the town-country binary170 is particularly strong, leav-
ing the walker no room to negotiate between the two: He regards Lon-

Another passage in which the town-country-binary is particularly strong, is “a contrast-
ed sketch of the phenomena of morning in Town and Country” (P. 311), in which Syl-
vanus juxtaposes morning in the country (with cock crowing, Ploughmen’s whistling or
the sounds of a scythe being sharpened) to morning in the city (with “vulgar tongues”,
different accents or loud curses), a poem reminiscent of Gay’s Trivia, which Thelwall
most likely knew.
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 177

don’s architecture as pretentiously beautiful and instead glorifies the sub-

lime beauty of nature. The juxtaposition of these two impressions of Lon-
don, which put the walker in two entirely different sentiments although
the city in its materiality and layout lies identically before them, explicitly
shows the influence of a variety of factors on the individual and conse-
quently subjective perception and experience of urban space. What is also
striking about this passage is the geographical location of the walkers.
Standing “almost at the summit of Highgate Hill” (ibid.), the walkers are
clearly not situated at street level nor immersed in the city core, strictly
making them no walkers in de Certeau’s sense. And yet, Sylvanus and his
fellow travellers can neither be understood as voyeurs. Although they are
elevated above street-level and put at some distance from the city centre,
they are neither uninvolved nor detached observers who remain unaffect-
ed or neutral towards their urban surroundings. On the contrary, the city
has an impact on them, triggering subjective “sensations” (ibid.) or “sen-
timents” (ibid.) in the walkers, as the preceding passages show. Sylvanus
himself is aware of this particular geographical position, emphasising its
the beauties of this extensive scenery [are] a little heightened by the
fine bird’s eye prospect of London and its environs, whose spires and
majestic buildings piercing the skies, and, above all, the magnificent
dome of St. Paul’s, rivet the eye in pensive admiration (P. 150).
The bird’s-eye view of London171 does not fail to put the walkers into a
state of contemplation and “pensive admiration,” but enhances the impres-

The traditional bird’s-eye view of London was superseded by ground plans with metic-
ulous topographical detail, a shift in cartography which began in post-Fire London with
a desire to literally map London’s new spaces: “The Fire […] literally and theatrically
interrupted the whole tradition of three-dimensions cartography in London, and gener-
ated a very different perception of cartographic discipline” (Wall 1998: 78). John Ogil-
by and William Morgan’s A Large and Accurate Map of the City of London (1677),
178 3. The Art of Walking

sion of the city on the walkers. The view of London from Highgate Hill
and the walkers’ emotional responses to it are connected to eighteenth-
century aesthetic ideals of the picturesque as situated between the sublime
and the beautiful. 172 Details of landscape, such as the city’s spires piercing
the sky and sharp contrasts are typical for the picturesque; Sylvanus’ view
of London is based on a juxtaposition of nature and city on the one hand,
and their union in a picturesque panorama on the other. In contrast to the
beautiful or the sublime, nature in this panorama is not idealised and thus
evokes a sense of reality in the landscape. And yet, Sylvanus’ emotional
response to the scenery indicates an involvement and movement of his
mind. Hence, neither situated as a walker at street level nor as a voyeur
high above, de Certeau’s concept of the two is not a clear-cut distinction
of either/or, but has different versions in between, too, which, in the case
of The Peripatetic need to be understood in the context of eighteenth-
century aesthetic ideals.173


The Peripatetic is a text that deserves to be read from a variety of perspec-

tives in order to be fully understood. Read as literary psychogeography,
two aspects stand out: The notion of walking as an art and the political

published eleven years after the Great Fire, is generally considered as one of the first of
these detailed topographical maps of London (see ibid. 84f.).
See Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the
Beautiful (1987), Gilpin’s Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty; On Picturesque Trav-
el; and on Sketching Landscape: to which is Added a Poem, On Landscape Painting
(1972 [1791]) and Uvedale’s An Essay on the Picturesque, as Compared with the Sub-
lime and the Beautiful; and on the Use of Studying Pictures, for the Purpose of Improv-
ing Real Landscape (1794).
I have already explored this problematic clear-cut distinction between voyeur and walk-
er in my essay “John Gay's Trivia and Thomas Brown's Amusements: Spatial Experi-
ences and Psychogeography in Eighteenth Century London” (2014).
3.2. John Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) 179

dimension of Sylvanus’ excursions. As previously shown, for Sylvanus,

walking is not only a pragmatic activity to travel between destinations, but
a form of art that, carried out in the correct manner, provides the walker
with meditations and musings of various kinds. On his walks, Sylvanus
says, he is “sauntering along, and indulging, according to [his] usual prac-
tice, the extemporaneous effusions of a moral muse” (P. 84). Crucial for
his explorations is the extemporaneous nature of the meditations that
walking affords, as the reflections, sensations and meditations he falls into
are dependent on a variety of factors that cannot be predicted, such as
weather conditions, sensory experiences, unique geographical viewpoints,
political consciousness or individual memories. Hence, for the walker
nothing appears […] so ridiculous as to be […] travelling, and after
all, through the dread of some little inconvenience, to pass by any
place that might possibly afford matter of curiosity or meditation (P.
Consequently, every road Sylvanus travels “conspires to awaken all those
calm sensations” (P. 335) that he seeks while walking, which, using psy-
chogeographical terminology, translates as a dérive during which Sylva-
nus lets himself be guided by his spatial surroundings and the encounters
he makes there. The extent to which Sylvanus’ walking is conceived as an
art can also be seen in the following passage:
From hence we continued our course along a beautiful and romantic
road, whose hills and curves, however they might lengthen the way,
contributed, in no small degree, to our entertainment; for diversity is
the charm of life: and how anxious soever we may be to rush straight
forward upon our object, the turnings and twistings which at times
impede us, the ups and downs that add to the difficulty of attainment,
give a higher zest to our enjoyments (P. 341).
180 3. The Art of Walking

Echoing the ups and downs of life, the road becomes not only the literal,
but also the figurative area for Sylvanus’ pedestrian excursions. Lastly,
the rambling walking activity of Sylvanus also reflects Thelwall’s own
“eccentric, wandering, homeless, restless energy, which feels confined
within any domestic space (or genre)” (Scrivener 2008: 211). But alt-
hough The Peripatetic understands walking as art, Thelwall as a left-wing
activist is careful to convey the notion of walking as being available and
accessible to everyone. Alluding to the peripatetic school in the title,
Thelwall deliberately misleads his readers while at the same time turning
any expectations against themselves. He deconstructs the philosophical,
elitist associations with the peripatetic movement, only to reconstruct an
idea of artful walking that can also be practised by those who are consid-
ered as belonging to the margins of society. For that matter, the walker
Sylvanus travels on foot to learn about the “intermediate and lower or-
ders” (Thelwall 1795, Sept. 4: 186) and to represent people within a place
that do not necessarily belong to the ruling classes. On his excursions,
therefore, he finds the centre in the margins, not only geographically but
also socially. Geographically, Sylvanus perambulates the marginal areas
of London, thus transforming them into the centre of his walks and medi-
tations. His geographical encounters with unconventional landmarks such
as barns, cottages or graveyards stand in stark contrast to conventional
tour guides of London and its suburbs, a strategy Thelwall applies to “re-
vise, interrogate, and annotate the tourist companions that serve as the
models for his Peripatetic guide to London” (Thompson 2001: 34–35; also
see Scrivener 2008: 215). Socially, Sylvanus seeks contact to the margin-
alised and encounters with gypsies, farmers, beggars and the poor are fre-
quent in the text. This political notion is further emphasised by the text’s
formal aspects. The Peripatetic’s generic mix, in which “elite” literatures
are bound together with pieces of low and marginal discourses (cf.
3.3. Conclusion 181

Thompson 2001: 37), is a voice for the democratisation of literature and

the dissolution of exclusivity that Thelwall aims to promote.
The Peripatetic and its walker Sylvanus conduct the reader on a
psychogeographical journey around London, allowing them to follow the
wanderings of both his feet and his mind. The walker’s pedestrian activity
is affected by sensations and situations of various kinds which in turn
trigger reflections and contemplations within the walker. In order to com-
prehend Sylvanus’ experiences of and in the suburbs of London, the struc-
ture of The Peripatetic in passages of prose, verse or letters mirrors the
walker’s pedestrian activity, the effects his geographical surroundings
have on him, as well as the states of alert reverie the walker finds himself
in. Sylvanus is affected by being in certain places and, as a consequence,
his vision of London and its suburbs is tinted, through his individual expe-
riences and perceptions, with Thelwall’s political beliefs also strongly
radiating from the text.

3.3. Conclusion

Both The Peripatetic and Trivia share the notion of walking as an art, but
remain two profoundly different texts, which are certainly also related to
the time they were written in. I have shown that Thelwall’s and Gay’s
texts can be read as a form of literary psychogeography that portrays pe-
destrian activity as much more than a practice of everyday life or a means
to an end. In both texts, the walkers set out on a journey on foot and expe-
rience their geographical environments in a particular way. Walking be-
comes an embodied practice, connecting the walkers’ minds to their sur-
roundings with “the bodily rhythms of walking […] correspond[ing] to
182 3. The Art of Walking

mental processes” (Coverley 2012: 22). As we have seen, the pedestrian

mobility of Sylvanus and Trivia’s walker initiates meditations, states of
alert reverie and individual experiences of various kinds, such as sensory
impressions, individual remembrances or the experience of particular at-
mospheres. Walking thus becomes a conscious act that creates different,
highly subjective versions of the city.
London is viewed very differently in the two texts. In Trivia, the
reader gains a fragmented view of the city, as the walker is deeply im-
mersed in its streets, weaving London together in a unique way as op-
posed to viewing the city in its anonymous totality. Dealing with the pro-
cess of urbanisation that was a much-discussed issue at the beginning of
the eighteenth century, Trivia assesses the advantages and disadvantages
of the growing metropolis, albeit providing a subjective evaluation of ex-
periencing this new kind of urban space. In that way, Trivia forces its
readers to relate to their urban surroundings in new ways, making “a new
vision of London possible” (Bond 2007: 38). What is more, Trivia pro-
motes the art of walking as an elitist practice reserved for intellectuals of
the upper middle-class, whereas The Peripatetic repeatedly stresses that
reflective and meditative waking is disconnected from education or social
status. At the end of the eighteenth century, the metropolitan character of
London was not a novelty anymore, but, quite to the contrary, the city was
often perceived as the corrupt and evil counterpart to the country. The
Peripatetic thus provides its readers with less of a fragmented, but more
of a holistic view of London, as Sylvanus and his fellow walkers, although
always with London’s architectural landmarks (most notably St. Paul’s) in
sight, keep a geographical distance from London’s city centre and instead
move around its suburbs. In that regard, Sylvanus is not strictly a walker
in de Certeau’s sense, but a variation of the concept, who, although seeing
the city in its totality, cannot be understood as a distant, objective voyeur.
3.3. Conclusion 183

Hence in Thelwall’s text, London does not appear as consisting of indi-

vidual streets or alleys, but is regarded as an influential background
against which psychogeographical experiences occur. In that way, The
Peripatetic is reminiscent of Iain Sinclair’s twenty-first-century London
Orbital, a voyage of discovery for which a deliberate walk around the
M25 becomes a subversive act against the capitalism and consumerism of
and in London. Thelwall places Sylvanus in the marginal areas of London
as well, counteracting an obsession with the metropolis combined with the
excessive urban practice of self-staging and neglect of others, and a con-
comitant widening gap between classes. Moreover, the French Revolution
and Thelwall’s Jacobin political background clearly resonate in the text,
thereby corresponding to the political dynamics of the 1790s. Travelling
through London’s margins on foot, the walking of Sylvanus suggests an
act of a political radical, “expressing an unconventionality and a willing-
ness to identify and be identified with the poor” (Solnit 2002 [2001]: 107).
The Peripatetic, therefore, with its “trinity of racial politics, love of na-
ture, and pedestrianism” (ibid.) displays a strong political notion, whereas
Trivia is primarily concerned with experiences of the city’s metropolitan
culture. And yet, both texts promote the art of walking in a particularly
strong way. Although the other texts to be analysed further on also have
the London walkers at their outset, The Peripatetic and Trivia display two
exceptionally strong walking figures for whom travelling on foot becomes
a means to relate to their urban and suburban surroundings in new and
individual ways. Both texts also recreate the walkers’ experiences for the
reader, whose reading experience is, just like the walkers’ pedestrian
movement, characterised by interruptions, digressions and transitions.
Therefore, the readers themselves become “armchair” walkers, who, in the
case of Trivia are immersed in the city streets or, in the case of The Peri-
patetic, are situated at the margins of London.
4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”: 174
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)

Daniel Defoe published A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) almost sim-
ultaneously with another plague text, Due Preparations for the Plague
(1722). It is not a coincidence that Defoe wrote these texts at the begin-
ning of the 1720s, as they – typical for Defoe – were inspired by contem-
porary events. In 1720, the plague raged in Marseilles to a similar extent
as it had in London some 50 years before, reminding the English and
Londoners in particular of the dreadful year 1665, while at the same time
fanning fear of another potential outbreak. What is more, in 1721, as an
immediate response to the plague in Marseilles, a public health measure
was passed in England, known as the Quarantine Act of 1721. The act
ordered any infected person – regardless of what kind of infection – to be
put under quarantine and threatened capital punishment upon any attempts
at concealing knowledge thereof or escapes from the quarantine. 175 The
Quarantine Acts became an issue of public debate, and it was no secret
that Defoe highly criticised them. Furthermore, the scandal of the South
Sea Bubble176 of 1720 might well have contributed to Defoe’s decision to
make chaos and disorder a central topic of his next work (cf. Peraldo
2012: 176; Backscheider 2004). The topicality of both the Journal and
Due Preparations for the Plague is unquestioned, and while they share
similarities, for example an attempt to find possible

(Wall 2003: xix)
The Quarantine Act of 1721 was initially directed at ships, their crews and cargo to
prevent intra- or cross-European spreading of infections or diseases.
For more on the Journal’s subtle commentaries on the disorders caused by the South
Sea Bubble, see Roger’s essay “'This Calamitous Year': A Journal of the Plague Year
and the South See Bubble” (1985).

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017

C. Löffler, Walking in the City,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-17743-0_5
186 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

causes for the plague epidemic177, they are different in one crucial aspect:
Due Preparations has a didactic and medical stance, whereas the Journal
is an account of the fateful year of 1665 that seeks to examine the emo-
tional and psychological impacts of the epidemic. Accordingly, Defoe
thought it was as important to remember “the human affect and suffering”
about the pestilence as “the many historical and geographical data, statis-
tics and documents” (Peraldo 2012: 167) that pervade the Journal. Hence,
the text, although also inspired by medical records of the plague such as
Dr. Nathaniel Hodges’ Loimologia (1672), remains first and foremost a
story of a city whose geography becomes haunted by the outbreak of an
With A Journal of the Plague Year, Defoe “provides the prototype
psychogeographical report” (Coverley 2010: 15) as it “both in style and
content, portrays the city in a manner that shares almost all the preoccupa-
tions that have come to be termed psychogeographical” (ibid. 36). In the
present chapter, I therefore take a closer look at textual and topical ele-
ments that classify Defoe’s text as the “prototype” of psychogeographical
writing. A particular focus of this chapter is the historical rewriting of the
city. I thereby take a closer look at the function and implications of the
temporal gap between the plague year of 1665 and the Journal’s publica-
tion in 1722. In this connection, it is of further interest to examine how the
main protagonist not only uses religious analogies but also conducts mor-
ally impelled explorations of plague-ridden London to generally warn
against moral decline and the decay of virtues as side-effects of urbanisa-

It was not until 1894 that the cause of the plague was identified as the bacillus Yersinia
pestis (Backscheider 2004: cf. n.p.).
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 187

Just like Trivia and The Peripatetic, A Journal of the Plague Year defies
any generic classifications. The full title of the Journal178 suggests a “sort
of cross” (Wall 2003: xx) between documentary, memoir, eye-witness
account and historical novel. The Journal is narrated by a London saddler
with the initials H.F179 who remains in London during the plague and thus
is able to provide an eye-witness account of “this calamitous Year” (JPY
238). Being in the midst of everything that is happening in London, ex-
posing himself to danger and experiencing a London changed beyond
recognition, H.F. provides a unique account of a plague-ridden city. As I
show further on, H.F. regularly conducts walks through the infested city,
the style and manner of which classify him as a London walker. However
unlikely H.F.’s survival may seem considering his exposure to the epi-
demic, his remaining in London is a topical condition for the Journal so
that the idealistic outcome of the text, namely H.F.’s survival, is almost
never critically regarded. Even H.F. himself, upon concluding his account,
cannot conceal his amazement at his survival and admits its unlikeliness:
A dreadful Plague in London was,
In the Year Sixty Five,
Which swept an Hundred Thousand Souls
Away; yet I alive! (JPY 238)
From this fact alone, and from the fact that Defoe himself was too young
to have been able to give such a detailed account of the plague, it can be
concluded that the Journal cannot be understood as an objective docu-

A Journal of the Plague Year. Being Observations or Memorials, of the most Remarka-
ble Occurrences, as Well Publick as Private, which Happened in London During the
Last Great visitation in 1665. Written by a Citizen Who Continued all the While in
London. Never made Publick Before
H.F. are most likely the initials of Henry Foe, Defoe’s uncle, who was a young man
when the plague struck London. Defoe added the aristocratic “de” to his surname in
1695 (cf. Wall 2003: xxi).
188 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

mentary of the plague year. Moreover, the text’s structure also hints at a
unique blend of fact and fiction, as H.F. gathers statistical data as much as
he tells individual and emotional stories of grief, despair and fear. Typical
for literary psychogeography, the Journal hence not only consists of prose
text, but is supplemented with figures and tables, as well as several illus-
trations (JPY 33): To illustrate the statistical impact of the plague, H.F.
includes several Bills of Mortality in his account. These bills stress the
dramatic scale of the plague and aim at a certain degree of verisimilitude,
but they also play another significant role, as I explain later on in the
chapter. Furthermore, although written mainly in prose form (except for
the occasional lists and figures disrupting the text), the Journal contains
an exceptionally long dramatic episode, namely a story of three travellers
fleeing the city and seeking refuge in the countryside. Although not con-
tinuous, their story is written as a drama within the broader framework of
the Journal as such (JPY: 125 f.).180 Defoe’s decision to exceed generic
boundaries by including the dramatic form in the text can be explained by
the importance of the story for the journal’s narrator H.F., for whom the
adventures of the three travellers “has a Moral in every Part of it, and their
whole conduct, and that of some who they join’d with, is a Patern [sic.]
for all poor Men to follow” (JPY 118). In addition, the literary form of the
drama contributes to the dynamic and vivid tone of the episode that stands
in stark contrast to H.F.’s solitary observations. The story of the three
brothers who decide to travel as companions counteracts H.F.’s choice to
observe and withstand the plague on his own. The dramatic form stresses
this juxtaposition and provides a welcome change from H.F.’s solitary
musings.181 Defoe’s play with literary forms and with textual and non-

In the first 1722 edition of the Journal, the episode of the three brothers is printed in
Italics, making the passage stand out even more.
For another detailed reading of the story of the three brothers, see McNeil 1983.
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 189

textual elements, as well as the masterful array of textual and non-textual

elements, thereby creates a generic obscurity that reflects the topical con-
tent of the Journal.
By merging factual documentary with fiction, Defoe creates a
unique blend of objectivity and subjectivity in the Journal. The text, alt-
hough claiming to contain ‘observations’ aimed at objectivity, does not
convey an absolute truth. As Burgess argues in the introduction to the
1966 edition of the Journal, the text’s “truth is twofold: it has the truth of
the conscientious and scrupulous historian, but its deeper truth belongs to
the creative imagination” (Burgess 1966: 19). The narrator H.F. is aware
of this ambiguity and knows that “the truth” is an expandable notion:
I cou’d give a great many such Stories as these182, diverting enough,
which in the long Course of that dismal Year, I met with, that is heard
of, and which are very certain to be true, or very near the Truth; that is
to say, true in the general, for no Man could at such a Time, learn all
the Particulars (JPY 51-52).183
H.F. admits that nothing he relates follows an absolute truth, but to differ-
ent extents obtains varying degrees of subjectivity. A reason for this sub-
jectivised truth, according to H.F., is the fact that many stories he hears
are “presented to the Eye, and the Ear […] in passing along the Streets”
(JPY 117), so that eye-witness reports are incessantly altered and often
become exaggerated. As a result,
[t]he narrative pattern Defoe chooses for his Narrator plays upon the
paradox of both/and: each image, each story, each fact, swings both
ways, permitting conflicting interpretations. This text - full of facts,

H.F. often tells stories of individual people or families, in this case the story of a family
household who managed to trick the watchmen and nurses in order to escape their
locked-up house. For other stories of individuals see, for example, pages 70f., 81f.,
104f., 189f.
The quotations from A Journal of the Plague Year are all taken from the 2003 edition,
edited by Cynthia Wall.
190 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

full of documents - maps itself out on contradictions and difficulties

(Wall 2003: xxxiii).
In the Journal, the readers discover a London perceived through the eyes
of H.F., which is in turn influenced by stories that the narrator himself
cannot confirm. Typical for literary psychogeography, the Journal thereby
creates an urban imaginary that is characterised by the wandering view-
point of its first-person narrator H.F., as well as the narrator’s interest in
the psychological and social effects of the plague on the city as conveyed
via first-hand experiences and second-hand stories. Thus, although the
Journal is full of topographical references to London184, the author sup-
plements descriptions of London’s topography by examining the psycho-
logical and individual impacts of the plague on the people. In this way, the
Journal tries to reveal the interrelation between subjects and their urban
surroundings, focusing on H.F. as one individual who experiences a city
in crisis. Interestingly, the apparently objective Bills of Mortality H.F.
inserts in his account compliment the blend of fact and fiction: Although
H.F. claims that the bills are taken from public records, they are not con-
sistent with the Bills of Mortality Defoe uses in his Due Preparations for
the Plague. In the Journal, for instance, the total number of deaths in 1665
is accounted for as 68590, while the same information in Due Prepara-
tions is given as 68596.185 Although this is only a difference of six casual-
ties, this discrepancy seems odd, but it is very unlikely that such a mistake

See, for instance, Schonhorn’s essay “Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year. Topography
and Intention” (1968), in which the author has closely examined references “to struc-
tures such as churches, inns and taverns, hospitals, monuments, pest-houses, prisons,
markets, and docks; to streets, lanes, alleys and courts” (Schonhorn 1968: 391).
For a detailed examination of the manipulation of sources and discrepancies of numbers
in the Journal and Due Preparations, see Peraldo (2012).
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 191

is the result of authorial carelessness (see Peraldo 2012: 170 f.).186 Rather,
the inconsistencies of the figures are understood to emphasise the fact that
in the Journal, numbers and figures are not a priority as they cannot suf-
fice to capture the horrors of a calamity like the plague (cf. ibid.). Again,
H.F. himself is aware of the inaccuracy of the Bills of Mortality:
There died, at least, 100000 of the Plague only […], and besides those
which died in the Fields, and High-ways, and secret Places […] and
who were not put down in the Bills (JPY 97).
With that, H.F. challenges the “official” number given in the bills and
draws attention to the incorrectness of the figures, pointing out that in
such an event, statistical science reaches its limit. Interestingly, however,
H.F. never inserts such criticism immediately before or after showing the
bills in the text, thereby trying to lend the Journal a certain degree of veri-
The writing style of the Journal reflects the overall disordered and
chaotic situation of London in 1665 and appears as non-linear as H.F.’s
discontinuous movement through London. Accordingly, the reading pro-
cess is constantly interrupted by digressions: H.F. hardly manages to tell
one thing at a time, as “he begins one story only to tell another, and then
goes back to the first” (Wall 2003: xx). As a consequence, the reader fol-
lows H.F. not only through the space of London’s streets, but also through
time, as he jumps to and fro between stories, rumours or individual fates.
With the help of constantly recurring remarks such as “as I shall explain
farther hereafter” (JPY 72), “But I come back to” (55), “as I shall observe
farther” (208) or “But of this I shall speak again” (204) that continue to
the very end of the Journal, H.F. tries to steer his readers through the me-

Saeger argues that the discrepancy regarding the Bills of Mortality stems from Defoe’s
sceptical attitude towards the reliability of records and that this might be a way of ex-
pressing criticism towards contemporary statistical science (Seager 2008: 642f.).
192 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

andering, fragmented journey through space and time. With that, the text
reflects the notion of chaos and disorder that the plague caused in London.
It seems like the shaken real world is taking control of the writing, with
“the sentence structure yielding to it” (Burgess 2003 [1966]: 273). The
frequent repetitions in the Journal also play their part in conveying the
effects of the plague on a textual level. Many times, H.F.’s stories are ac-
companied by remarks such as “as I mentioned before” (80), in that way
emphasising that everyday life in London was essentially broken down to
death, grief, pain and a quest for survival only, while everyday life as
people knew it halted. These spatial and temporal irregularities can also be
seen literally in the text: As I have explained, the text is interrupted by the
Bills of Mortality, as well as by various insertions, such as the lines of a
poem written by Defoe in 1691 (23) or the last words of a dying man that
appear in the text as follows:
O mIsErY!
We BoTH ShaLL DyE,
WoE, WoE. (JPY 145).
H.F. explains that these uneven letters were found carved into a gate next
to which the man’s body was found. By depicting the words as crooked
and disorderly, the text, by its own means, tries to imitate the last mo-
ments in the man’s life. What is more, H.F. repeatedly uses the phrase
“and then” to link his observations. Using these phrases successively, the
text emphasises the rapid spreading of the plague and the hurry and panic
that spread all over London (JPY 34). In that way, the reading experience
of the Journal mirrors H.F.’s psychogeographical movement through
London and reflects the disturbed atmosphere in the city.
As indicated at the beginning of the chapter, a strong psychogeo-
graphical feature of the Journal is its “imaginative reworking of the city”
(Coverley 2010: 31). Peraldo, too, argues that the Journal’s psychogeo-
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 193

graphical dimension lies exactly in this re-imagination of the city, “in that
re-creation of spatial data through the imaginative power of the author”
(Peraldo 2012: 182). Tracing the steps of a seventeenth-century saddler,
however, was made difficult by the fact that Defoe
had to do more than simply reconstruct the London of nearly fifty
years before; he had to re-create a London consumed by the Great Fire
of 1666 [that] swept away much of the area affected by the plague
(Schonhorn 1968: 388).
Nevertheless, similar to the function of the Bills of Mortality, presenting
an objective topography of London was not Defoe’s priority and so he
does not focus on re-creating a precise topographical map of pre-fire Lon-
don. Instead, the topographical references in the Journal for the most part
focus on streets and areas that withstood the damage done by the Great
Fire and that still existed in the 1720s (cf. Schonhorn 1968: 392). 187
Hence, London’s topography as described in the Journal is not necessarily
an indicator of the temporal gap and the topographical changes that oc-
curred within that gap. Instead, H.F. often uses temporal deixis, such as
“then” and “now,” to stress this gap. These textual markers function to
make the reader aware of the time that has elapsed between plague and
publication, as, for instance, in this passage:
as Spittle-fields was then, for it was not so large as now, by one fifth
Part (JPY 20, also see 1, 66, 68, 126)
Most of the time, the temporal indicators lead to a comparison between
London as it was during the plague and during the 1720s, thereby juxta-
posing pre- and post-fire London. From time to time, the authorial voice
inserts further comments that point to the retrospective perspective of the

Schonhorn argues that Defoe pragmatically refrained from recreating a precise pre-fire
topography of London to avoid anachronisms and topographical errors (see Schonhorn
1968: 392 f.).
194 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

Journal, the most outstanding one being a peculiar remark upon H.F.’s
future grave:
The author of this journal lies buried in that very ground, being at his
own desire, his sister having been buried there a few years before
(JPY 223).
Defoe’s uncle, Henry Foe, seems to have died prior to 1722, and a topo-
graphical reference to the narrator’s future burial ground contributes to the
text’s complex mixture of time(s) and space(s).
I have already alluded to the topicality of text and contemporary
events from the 1720s that very likely inspired the Journal, but there is
much more to the mode of historically re-imagining the city than just tex-
tual indicators or frequent references to the Great Fire of 1666 that struck
the city a year after the plague. 188 The Journal’s temporal gap of precisely
57 years between the plague years and its year of publication can be also
understood as a reflection of Defoe’s experience of urban life as he per-
ceived it in the 1720s (cf. Flanders 1976: 151). And so, in the Journal,
Defoe “present[s] London under the plague, [but] by extension, [implies]
his view of city life in general” (ibid. 181). The Journal and its temporal
framework of the plague year thus sheds light on the epidemic through the
lenses of 57 years later during which London underwent significant
changes. As I have explained in chapter 2.1, there was a vast shift towards
urbanisation after the fire of 1666. Right at the beginning, H.F., as a per-
son who has “liv’d to see” London’s development and who functions as a
bridge between 1665 and the 1720s, thereby filling the temporal gap him-
self, gives an account of this:
It must not be forgot here, that the City and Suburbs were prodigious-
ly full of People, at the time of this Visitation, I mean, at the time that

H.F. frequently includes references to the Great Fire. See, for instance, pages 90f., 159,
164, 214, 232.
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 195

it began; for tho’ I have liv’d to see a farther Encrease, and mighty
Throngs of People settling in London, more than ever, yet we had al-
ways a Notion, that the Numbers of People […] had flock’d to Lon-
don, to settle into Business […] The Town was computed to have in it
above a hundred thousand people more than ever it held before; nay,
some took upon them to say, it had twice as many (JPY 19-20).
In this passage, the narrator draws attention to overcrowding and over-
population as major side-effects of London’s urban expansion. Stressing
the temporal gap and developments within that gap right at the beginning,
the Journal introduces a temporal framework within which H.F. also ad-
dresses psychological and social dimensions of eighteenth-century urban
experiences in general. In that way, the Journal is part of an extensive
number of texts that developed after the fire of 1666 and that Byrd calls
“literature of denunciation” (Byrd 1978: 21).189 From this point of view,
major topics of the Journal, namely anxiety, dread, insecurity, morality
and isolation also have the function of addressing problems arising from
urbanisation. Although emotional reactions like horror and fear are hardly
surprising when faced with an epidemic like the plague, the way they are
displayed in the Journal can meaningfully be understood to capture nega-
tive side effects of urban life in eighteenth-century London, most promi-
nently moral collapse and alienation. Moreover, biblical analogies of
London, more specifically identifications of London with Babylon and
New Jerusalem reveal an additional religious layer of H.F.’s vision of
London. Accordingly, the Journal chronicles the change of morality dur-
ing the plague year and draws attention to the Babylonian state of London
– not only during the plague itself but as a side effect of urbanisation in

Also compare William Hogarth’s moralising work, such as A Rake’s Progress, A Har-
lot’s Progress or Four Times of Day in which attention is drawn to the corruptive and
tempting forces of the city.
196 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

With the swift spreading of the epidemic, moral values crumbled

progressively. Beginning with scavenging and a general indifference to-
wards the plight of others, the behaviour of the people became less and
less defined by moral values and hence, vandalism and violence soon be-
came part of everyday life during the epidemic. The deliberate infecting of
others (cf. JPY 54, 154-5155), or verbal and physical abuses (cf. JPY 64
f.) are but two examples of the growing animosity between people remain-
ing in London. At first glance, alienation and anonymity are presented in
the Journal as being caused by uncontrollable external circumstances,
namely the epidemic. However, as the re-imaginative framework of the
text is considered, they become as much an internal enemy generated by
the man-made process of urbanisation: Defoe’s London had achieved a
size and character that “trouble[d] the social life of its people […] and
more and more frequently we encounter complaints of indifference, of
lostness within it” (Byrd 1978: 25). This warning against social and moral
downfall can be connected to conceiving of London as Babylon, and if
Babylon is understood not so much as a physical place but as a moral
condition (cf. Seymour 2013: 164), alongside its urbanisation, London
quickly adopted Babylonian features. Corruption and a decreasing interest
in moral values that came in the form of indifference, carelessness, self-
ishness, heartlessness, hostility or greed therefore cast a continually grow-
ing shadow upon the great new London, leading to emotional and moral
alienation among its inhabitants. As a result, H.F. has to experience these
developments not only during the plague, but in fact has to accept that
they are unavoidable by-products of urbanisation. H.F.’s explorations of
the city, H.F. and his observations of moral decline in that way contribute
to the hellish vision of London as evoked in the Journal.
In the Journal, emotional and moral alienation are complemented by
physical alienation, because during the plague people rapidly developed a
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 197

fear of human contact. For fear of being infected via bodily contact with
others, people started keeping a safe distance between each other in order
to maintain a safety gap, for example by going “cross the Way” (JPY 84,
also see 98, 103, 111 or 199). As a result, people increasingly became
anonymous and although H.F. frequently tells individual stories, the indi-
viduals remain uncharacterised and are more universally presented as hu-
man beings (cf. Burgess 1966: 18). In that way, the Journal to some ex-
tent anticipates what Georg Simmel was to say about life in the metropolis
in general, where alienation, distance and anonymity are central condi-
tions of urban life (cf. Simmel). For H.F., the worst consequence of the
plague is therefore not the death toll, but the moral attitude of the people
and the progressively Babylonian state of London. Another indicator that
moral collapse does not merely correlate with the epidemic but has to be
understood in a broader framework is H.F.’s inquiry into the chronologi-
cal process of people’s moral attitudes. In consternation, H.F. describes
how people’s behaviour does not change back when the plague has dis-
pelled and reluctantly recalls:
I wish I cou’d say, that as the City had a new Face, so the Manners of
the People had a new Appearance […] It must be acknowledg’d that
the general Practice of the People was just as it was before, and very
little Difference was to be seen.
Some indeed said Things were worse, that the Morals of the People
declin’d from this vere [sic.] time; that the People harden’d by the
Danger they had been in (JPY 219-220).
While during the plague, H.F. is able to relate to people’s immoral behav-
iour as a means for survival, H.F. is startled to see that the end of the
plague triggers no change in people’s morality and instead sees “Unthank-
fulness and the Return of all manner of Wickedness” (JPY 237). Even af-
ter the epidemic, London continues to take on a Babylonian scale, becom-
ing ever more “wicked, brutal, […] unmanageable” (Byrd 1978: 22). In-
198 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

terestingly, the moral and social development described by H.F. is

grounded in a paradox of biblical analogies of London. As argued in chap-
ter 2.3, contemporary biblical analogies included comparisons of London
with Babylon and New Jerusalem. With regard to its urbanisation, London
was sometimes understood to be the heavenly New Jerusalem, the eternal
city prophesied in the Book of Revelation. As envisioned in the New Tes-
tament, a New Jerusalem would follow from apocalypse and thus it
seemed reasonable to understand plague and fire as apocalyptical. As Gil-
bert explains, after London was destroyed by plague and fire, an attempt
was made to literally and figuratively rebuild London as the New Jerusa-
lem (Gilbert: 199f.).190 The Great Fire and the Great Plague were therefore
also understood “as a cleansing of the land so that a new and better city
might rise in its place” (Gilbert: 189). This belief was further spurred by
the long tradition of believing that the British – descendants of the lost
tribes of Israel – were God’s chosen people destined to live in the New
Jerusalem. Accordingly, H.F. explains that God’s “invisible hand […] had
at first sent this disease as a judgement upon us” (JPY 236) and that
“Nothing but the immediate Finger of God, nothing but omnipotent Pow-
er, could have done it” (JPY 234). H.F. thus considers the plague (and the
fire), dreadful as it might have been, as the ultimate judgement, but cru-
cially, H.F. also acknowledges that this divine punishment and destruction
did not end with London’s extinction but initiated a new city, the New
Jerusalem, rising from ashes to phoenix. Hence, by perceiving London as

Gilbert argues that John Evelyn, one of the post-fire architects charged with London’s
rebuilding, used a lot of biblical references for his architectural plans and symbolic po-
sitions of certain buildings that reflect passages from the Book of Revelation (cf. Gil-
bert 2002: 200f.). However, none of Evelyn’s plans were approved. Nevertheless,
Christopher Wren and his model of the new St. Paul’s were much influenced by the Ho-
ly Sepulchre in Jerusalem (cf. ibid. 208). In that way, plans and models that were even-
tually implemented implied some connections with Jerusalem, thereby pointing towards
the conception of London as the New Jerusalem on an architectural level as well.
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 199

Babylon and the antithetical New Jerusalem at the same time, a conflict
arises between secular and heavenly city. While H.F. draws attention to a
Babylonian decay of morals, in the Journal, the plague is not only under-
stood as divine judgment intended to mercilessly destroy the city; in fact,
the plague is also understood as an act of purification by religious prove-
nance. In the Journal, therefore, there is no clear-cut separation between
sinful, secular Babylon and eternal, heavenly New Jerusalem. On the con-
trary, although the Journal stresses London’s survival and upsurge and its
religiously grounded destiny to become the centre of Europe, it also points
out that although plague and fire initiated a cleansing of the old city, Lon-
don could never be a sacred, purified New Jerusalem. Instead, Defoe
draws attention to the consequences of urbanisation by commenting on the
post-apocalyptic Babylonian features of London. Although London sur-
vived plague and fire and was rebuilt to become the most important city in
Europe, it had a price to pay: moral principles and virtues crumbled and
despite London’s uprising and religious aspirations to be acknowledged as
the New Jerusalem, it could not be entirely cleansed of Babylonian fea-
tures. The plague, therefore, “seemed appropriate as an embodiment of a
state of mind generated by the urban life of his own time” (Flanders 1976:
153) so that “the life of the city under plague becomes paradigmatic for
modern civilization” (ibid. 169). Hence, in the framework of the epidemic,
Defoe projects eighteenth-century urban experiences on the year of the
plague 1665, not only re-creating London, but re-imagining it through the
eyes of a character who stood witness to 57 years of urban development.
The result is a multi-layered London characterised by darkness, pain and
fear initiated not only by a natural epidemic but also by man-made urbani-

200 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

H.F., the first-person narrator of the Journal functions as a solitary Lon-

don walker navigating through a city that has changed beyond recogni-
tion, so that “[u]pon [his] walking the Streets and Fields, [H.F.] cannot
omit taking notice what a desolate Place the city was at that Time” (JPY
98). Throughout the Journal, H.F. remains solitary for several reasons:
First of all, avoiding physical contact with other human beings became a
common practice during the plague, as proximity to possibly infected
people was too dangerous. Secondly, H.F.’s endeavour is risky and defies
any safety measurements that people were advised to follow in order to
escape infection. And, thirdly, the desire to observe every possible effect
of the plague is the main catalyst for H.F.’s solitary walking, the freedom
of which would have been compromised by a companion. One might
wonder why H.F. exposes himself to the danger of staying in London, in-
stead of fleeing the city to reside in the country, following the advice of
his brother who recommended that “the best Preparation for the Plague
was to run away from it” (JPY 11).191 H.F. was certainly not lacking a
place to stay in the country192, but nevertheless eventually decided to re-
main in the city for a number of reasons, the most crucial of them being
H.F.’s conviction that his individual fate was divine intention:
It immediately followed in my thoughts, that if it really was from God
that I should stay, He was able effectually to preserve me in the midst
of all the death and danger that would surround me; and that if I at-
tempted to secure myself by fleeing from my habitation, and acted
contrary to these intimations, which I believe to be Divine, it was a

H.F.’s brother fled the city and wanted H.F. to accompany him. The exact advice of
H.F.’s brother to H.F. was “Master, save thy self” (JPY 11).
He had “several Friends and Relations in Northamptonshire” (JPY 11) and a “Sister in
Lincolnshire” (ibid.), to be precise.
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 201

kind of flying from God, and that He could cause His justice to over-
take me when and where He thought fit (JPY 12).193
Once H.F.’s decision is final, he does not resolve to remain indoors but
instead constantly experiences the urge to wander around the city and to
observe the movement of the epidemic and its effects on London. The
force that drives him on his “random wanderings” (Wall 2003: xx), is his
“unsatisfy’d Curiosity” (JPY 78). During the entire time, even when the
plague rages violently, H.F. is unable to “restrain [him]self” (78, 101)
from going outside.
With the arrival of the plague, everyday life in London is gradually
altered. H.F., who sees his vocation in recording his impressions, observes
first subtle signs announcing a changing cityscape and dreadful months to
The very Court, which was then Gay and Luxurious, put on a Face of
just concern, for the publick Danger: All the Plays and Interludes,
which after the Manner of the French Court, had been set up, and be-
gan to increase among us, were forbid to Act; the gaming Tables, pub-
lick dancing Rooms, and Music Houses […] where shut up and sup-
press’d; and the Jack-puddings, Merry-andrews, Puppet-shows, Rope-
dancers, and such like doings, […] shut up their Shops, finding indeed
no Trade; for the Minds of the People were agitated with other Things;
and a kind of Sadness and Horror at these Things, sat upon the Coun-
tenances, even of the common People; Death was before their Eyes,
and every Body began to think of their Graves, not of Mirth and Di-
version (JPY 30).
Readers learn how common daily urban businesses just stopped when the
plague came to London and how people suddenly had different priorities.
The changes are small at first; but as wider-reaching and more serious

Another decisive factor for H.F.’s decision to stay in London was that he falls ill and is
unable to travel for several days and to accompany his brother on his flight from Lon-
don. Moreover, H.F. considers it his duty to look after his “Family of Servants” (JPY
10), as well as his trade and goods.
202 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

consequences, trade and supply within the city break down, too, and Lon-
doners find it increasingly hard to struggle for enough food and other
basic goods. But not only trade within London temporarily comes to a
standstill: with word about the plague spreading beyond the borders of
England, the European mainland terminated all trading so that no Europe-
an ports would send ships to London or permit ships from London to enter
their ports. As a consequence, London was literally cut off from the out-
side world, having to fight the epidemic on its own.
In the city centre, H.F. starts to witness topographical and social
changes that affect the general atmosphere in London:
One day, being at that Part of the Town on some special Business, Cu-
riosity led me to observe things more than usually, and indeed I
walk’d a great Way where I had no Business. I went up Holbourn, and
there the Street was full of People, but they walk’d in the middle of
the great Street, neither on one Side or other, because, as I suppose,
they would not mingle with any Body that came out of Houses, or
meet with Smells and Scents from Houses that might be infected (JPY
The walking behaviour of pedestrians, who now make their way in the
middle of the street rather than on the side, reflects the early stages of the
epidemic when caution and anxiety begin to surface among the inhabitants
of London. At this first stage, people strictly avoid doors and windows to
keep themselves from being contaminated and begin to walk in the middle
of the street instead. Gradually, however, even avoiding the sides of
streets becomes no guarantee of escaping infections and the streets, nor-
mally “means of passage,” are turned into “obstacles and threats” (Wall
2003: xxvi). Accordingly, and corresponding with the increasing intensity
of the plague, the city becomes more and more deserted:
It was a most surprising thing to see those streets which were usually
so thronged now grown desolate, and so few people to be seen in
them, that if I had been a stranger and at a loss for my way, I might
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 203

sometimes have gone the length of a whole street […], and seen no-
body to direct me (JPY 18).
And further on:
whole Streets seem’d to be desolated, and not to be shut up only, but
to be emptied of their Inhabitants; Doors were left open, Windows
stood shattering with the Wind in empty Houses for want of People to
shut them (JPY 164).
Both public and private spaces are now de-familiarised by the plague. The
streets, normally “prodigiously full of People” (19), are empty and deso-
late, while private homes, usually places of comfort and security, are ei-
ther abandoned or associated with enclosure and death. Accordingly, H.F.
describes houses as “Prisons without Barrs and Bolts” (53) and in this
context frequently refers to one of the major plague regulations, namely
the shutting up of houses.194 Regulations stated that infected persons were
to be locked in their houses which in turn were to be guarded by watch-
men. Markers in the form of red crosses – evoking biblical associations –
were painted on the doors of such houses to signify impending death and
danger. The regulations to shut up houses, locking the infected in and
condemning the rest of the household with them, is harshly criticised by
H.F., who observes that under such circumstances people were driven to
such extremities that they would try everything to break out of their own
homes (JPY 53). Consequently,
those that did break out, spread the Infection farther by their
wand’ring about with the Distemper upon them, in their desperate
Circumstances […] and made them run out of their Houses at all Haz-
ards, and with the Plague visibly upon them […] and Perish’d in the

The precise regulation read: “every house visited be marked with a red cross of a foot
long in the middle of the door, evident to be seen, and with these usual printed words,
that is to say, "Lord, have mercy upon us," to be set close over the same cross. And
[every house] to be attended with watchmen, which may keep them in” (JPY 33).
204 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

Streets […] or drop’d down, by the raging violence of the Fever upon
them (JPY 53).
These lines vividly describe how the streets of London turned into fright-
ful spaces. 195 Entirely abandoned, the usually thriving streets radiate an
eeriness and ghostliness that becomes even more devoid of all life when
the government orders the killing of all domestic animals and ridding the
city of all horses (cf. JPY 117f.). The state of the streets reaches its climax
when the city loses control over the removal and burial of the dead.
There was scarce any passing by the Streets, but that several dead
Bodies would be lying here and there upon the Ground […] At first,
the People would stop as they went along, and call to the Neighbours
to come out on such an Occasion; yet, afterward, no Notice was taken
of them; but that, if at any Time we found a Corps lying, go cross the
Way, and not come near it; or if in a narrow Lane or Passage, go back
again, and seek some other Way (JPY 77).
Here, H.F. describes how an everyday practice like walking turns into
something physically and emotionally demanding. Moreover, this passage
also demonstrates how, corresponding to the duration and force of the
plague, people adjusted more and more to the new, unfamiliar, and dread-
ful situation and gradually reacted with increasing indifference to such
horrible sights. The plague, therefore, rendered the known completely un-
known and turned a familiar city into something strange, so that “[t]he
Face of London was now indeed strangely alter’d” (JPY 17).196
H.F., a Londoner for all his life, does not recognise the city anymore.
But instead of surrendering to the altering force of the epidemic, he ad-
justs to the de-centred cityscape by means of walking through it and by
In contemporary reviews of the Journal, this passage, describing moribund people run-
ning madly among the streets is often interpreted in terms of the first descriptions of
‘The Walking Dead.’
It should be mentioned here that the personification of London is something that H.F.
frequently uses as a stylistic device to emphasise that the city as an entity was com-
pletely haunted by the plague.
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 205

learning to read the city’s new signs. His walks, therefore, have the func-
tion of making him acquainted with the disordered city and enabling him
to locate and categorise different areas. The new signs brought by the
plague are manifold and include not only visual signs but also audible or
olfactory signs. The Bills of Mortality and the red crosses on the doors,
for instance, mark the topographical development of the epidemic. By
relating to the number of deaths accounted for in different parishes and by
observing the quantity of red crosses, H.F. and the other Londoners al-
ways know which areas it is better to avoid. In August, for instance, when
the plague rages in St. Giles Cripplegate, H.F. observes that
[w]hen the People came into the Streets [by] Shoreditch and Bishops-
gate, or by Oldstreet and Smithfield, they would see the Streets empty,
and the Houses and Shops shut […] but when they came within the
City, there things look’d better, and the Markets and Shops were open,
and the People walking about the Streets as usual […] till the latter
End of August, and the Beginning of September. But then the Case al-
ter’d quite (JPY 180).
The bills become an important reference point for H.F., although their
accuracy may be doubted, as I have discussed before. Nevertheless, to a
great extent it is the bills through which London’s spatial borders are now
defined. At one instance, H.F. tells the story of a man who went “to a Vil-
lage near the Town, tho’ not within the Bills of Mortality” (JPY 146). It
becomes clear that it does not suffice to describe a specific London area
by providing geographical indicators. In that way, space and the plague
become geographically linked (cf. Peraldo 2012: 180) and the geograph-
ical progress of the plague is literally made visible. Another sign, both
visual and olfactory, whose correct reading could be a lifesaver were the
‘tokens’ on the bodies of infected people, “those Spots […] or mortified
Flesh in small Knobs as broad as a little silver Penny, and hard as a piece
of Callous or Horn” (JPY 188). These tokens radiated a strong stench as
206 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

well, so that upon seeing a person with tokens “come out upon him”
(ibid.) or perceiving the smell thereof, H.F. would have known that avoid-
ing the person was crucial for remaining alive.
But not only signs were characterised by a new set of sensory experi-
ences, it was also the general ‘sensescape’ of the city that was severely
affected by the spreading of the plague. Accordingly, H.F. describes two
contrasting categories of smells that characterised the year of the plague.
Firstly, an unpleasant effect of the increasing number of deaths was the
uncontrollable stench of decaying bodies that dominated the air. H.F. ex-
plains that “sometimes the Bodies lay several Days unburied” (JPY 99),
causing them to “rot in a dreadful manner” (ibid.). On his walks, H.F. is
exposed to these stenches of death and disease, but he always carries with
him a “Preparation of strong Scent to have ready, in case [he] met with
any thing of offensive smells, or went too near any burying place, or dead
Body” (JPY 229). Indeed, the belief that scents had the power to prevent
infection197 was quite prevalent, and so, strange and unfamiliar smells
such as “Pitch and Tar, and such other things, as Oil and Rosin, and Brim-
stone” (JPY 109) characterised the other scale of the new sensescape. In
one episode, H.F. describes a church gathering that is characterised by the
blending of all sorts of smells:
there would be such a Mixture of Smells at the Entrance, that it was
much more strong, tho’ perhaps not so wholesome, than if you were
going into an Apothecary’s or Druggist’s Shop; in a Word, the whole
Church was like a smelling Bottle, in one Corner it was all Perfumes,
in another Aromaticks, Balsamicks, and variety of Drugs, and Herbs;
in another Salts and Spirits, as every one was furnish’d for their own
Preservation (JPY 200).

People thought that breathing other people’s breath would cause infection, so they be-
lieved that if they breathed other scents, they might escape infection.
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 207

Both kinds of smells, the smell of death and the smell of preservative
scents, are strange and unfamiliar, as they do not belong to the set of sen-
sory experiences normally perceived in a city. Smells usually characteris-
ing a city such as London (as Trivia’s walker experiences, for instance),
were absent under the raging of the plague. Instead, the transformation of
the city into an unfamiliar and strange place could also be experienced
with the senses. Similar to the altered smellscape of London, typical urban
soundscapes such as market criers, ballad singers, buzzing from the
crowd, layers of conversations, etc., were absent and replaced by sounds
and noises connected to death and despair. H.F. frequently talks of
“Groans and Crys” (JPY 80), “frightful yellings and cryings” (100) or
“miserable Lamentations of poor dying Creatures” (101) filling the streets.
Pain, grief and general distress literally made themselves heard in London
and while those crying were evidently affected by the plague, the woeful
sounds have an effect on H.F. as well:
incessant Roarings, and such loud and lamentable Cries were to be
heard as [I] walk’d along the Streets, that would Pierce the very Heart
to think of (JPY 74).
H.F. is regularly moved and at want for words upon hearing shrieks and
cries that come not only from the streets, but also from inside the houses
(cf. JPY 150). These sounds create a ghastly atmosphere and grim ambi-
ances that are ever the more intensified by the ominous ringing of the
bells announcing the death carts. With the increasing number of deaths,
bellmen were appointed to drive around with carts to take the dead away,
always accompanied by the ringing of bells and their cry: “Bring out your
dead!” (JPY 49). The dismal atmosphere created by these sounds stands in
stark contrast to moments of utter and profound silence in the streets (cf.
JPY 102) that further emphasise the eerie and anti-urban character of
London during the plague.
208 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

In addition to defining new signs and the prevalence of unfamiliar

sensory experiences, the senses also played a crucial role regarding H.F.’s
walking route:
I stood wavering for a good while, but just at that interval I saw two
links come over from the end of the Minories, and heard the bellman,
and then appeared a dead-cart, as they called it, coming over the
streets; so I could no longer resist my desire of seeing it, and went in.
There was nobody, as I could perceive at first, in the churchyard, or
going into it, but the buriers and the fellow that drove the cart, or ra-
ther led the horse and cart (JPY 60).
This passage characterises H.F.’s walking activity as a dérive, as the noise
of the death bells and the arrival of the death cart have an effect upon his
walking route. Once in the churchyard, H.F. observes “a mournful Scene
indeed” (JPY 61) of a man grieving over his dead wife and children, and
of corpses falling off the overloaded death cart. Upon seeing this, he be-
comes so much “affected” (ibid.) by this “awful scene […] full of terror”
that he decides to withdraw from the streets and to seek emotional shelter
in his own house:
I was indeed shock’d with this Sight, it almost overwhelm’d me, and I
went away with my Heart most afflicted, and full of the afflicting
Thoughts, such as I cannot describe; just at my going out of the
Church, and turning up the Street towards my own House, I saw an-
other Cart […], so I went directly Home (JPY 62).
H.F. is directed by the emotions invoked in him by what he sees on the
streets of London. However, in the confined space of his house, H.F., al-
ways driven by his curiosity, cannot linger for long:
Here the poor unhappy Gentleman’s Grief came into my head again,
and indeed I could not but shed Tears in the Reflection upon it, per-
haps more than he did himself; but his Case lay so heavy upon my
Mind, that I could not prevail with my self, but that I must go out
again into the Street […] resolving to enquire what became of him
(JPY 63-62).
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 209

This sequence exemplarily illustrates H.F.’s dérive through plague-ridden

London, and his non-linear movements of “shutting himself up, wander-
ing out again insatiably, shutting himself up again nervously and darting
out again” (Wall 2003: xx). Another example of H.F.’s dérive is the fol-
lowing passage, when a sudden noise abruptly stops his walking:
As I went along Houndsditch one Morning, about eight a-Clock, there
was a great Noise […] the Outcry was loud enough to prompt my Cu-
riosity, and I call’d to one that look’d out of a Window, and ask’d
what was the Matter (JPY 48).
H.F.’s route within the city is defined by his experiences. He not only ob-
serves his topographical surroundings, but literally and figuratively also
feels them. Feelings and emotions, in short the psychological effect of the
plague on himself and the people remaining in London, is therefore what
is of most interest to H.F.
The changes in London’s topography, its marginalisation and deser-
tion, had enormous effects on people’s minds and changed the behaviour
and emotions of Londoners. Because the better-off Londoners, as well as
the court and aristocracy, fled into the countryside, the majority of people
remaining in London were poor.198 The flight to the countryside hence
meant that society started to crumble: The typical class structure broke
down because the rich took their money and ran199, and the law imploded
with the government also gone from the city. Although there were plague
regulations, those regulations could not realistically be put into practice.

H.F. himself says that “the Plague was chiefly among the Poor” (JPY 87).
Samuel Pepys, who himself left London when the plague first hit the city, wrote about
his stay in the countryside:
I have never lived so merrily (besides that I never got so much) as I have done this
plague-time, by my Lord Brouncker's and Captain Cocke's good company, and the ac-
quaintance of Mrs. Knipp, Coleman and her husband, and Mr. Laneare; and great store
of dancings we have had at my cost (which I was willing to indulge myself and wife) at
my lodg-ings (Pepys: 31st December 1665).
210 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

As one consequence, with the societal system broken down and with death
looming over the city, the crime rate increased immensely. H.F. observes
many thieves and scavengers; but while he would have judged them under
conventional circumstances, he himself emotionally adjusts to the circum-
stances of the plague and does not pass judgement. Instead, upon observ-
ing the plundering of an abandoned warehouse, he is “surpriz’d, not at the
Sight of so many thieves only, but at the Circumstances [he] was in” (JPY
85), as he “consider’d, that this was not a Time to be Cruel and Rigorous”
(JPY 86). H.F. realises that the plague has altered his mind; but as I allud-
ed to earlier, it is mainly the general shift of moral attitude that H.F. is
astonished to observe. And so, H.F. testifies that the plague
[t]ook away all Compassion; self Preservation indeed appear’d here
to be the first Law, For the Children ran away from their Parents, as
they languished in the utmost Distress: And in some places […] Par-
ents did the like to their children; nay, some dreadful Examples there
were […] of distressed Mothers, raveing and distracted, killing their
own Children […] the Danger of immediate Death to ourselves, took
away all Bowels of Love, all Concern for one another (JPY 111-112).
We are shown how a change of habitual and familiar geography affects
people’s psyches. Just as the space of the city becomes more and more
confined and houses, shops, churches and other public spaces are shut up,
people’s compassion is ‘shut up’ as well.
A key moment in both H.F.’s observation of morality and also in
his walking is a nightly visit to the great burial pit in Aldgate: 200
A terrible Pit it was, and I could not resist my Curiosity to go and see
it; as near as I may judge, it was about 40 Foot in Length, and about
15 or 16 Foot broad; and at the Time I first looked at it, about nine
Foot deep […] I was not content to see it in the Day-time […] for then
there would have been nothing to have been seen but the loose Earth

H.F. actually visits the pit several times, but mostly “in the Day-time” (JPY 59).
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 211

[…] but I resolv’d to go in the Night and see some of them thrown in
(JPY 58-59).
H.F. literally wants to stare death in the face and the desire to see the mass
grave, although this entails exposure to great danger, is exceptionally
strong. The treatment of the dead, which H.F. only refers to as “Bodies”
that are “shot into the Pit promiscuously” (JPY 61), is anything but digni-
fied. As opposed to other eighteenth-century urban accounts, where the
crowd is a defining element of the cityscape, the crowd in the Journal, in
the form of corpses, makes a “macabre, uncommunicative appearance”
(Byrd 1978: 35) that reaches its gruesome climax in the pit. Finding their
blunt last resting place in the pit, together with countless other anonymous
corpses, the dead bodies are dehumanised. The great pit thus holds a sym-
bolic and psychological meaning for H.F., who desires to “see into the pit,
to comprehend the plague and the human condition it reveals” (Zimmer-
mann 1972: 420). The pit represents the moral abyss of the people remain-
ing in London, who gradually lose any trace of humane behaviour, and
whose morale meets a metaphorical death. Correspondingly, H.F. himself
describes the pit as a “dreadful Gulph […], for such it was rather than a
Pit” (JPY 59).201


The morally corruptive city as described and witnessed by H.F., in combi-

nation with the topographical changes in London under the plague, creates
a haunted, frightful and dark sense of place that characterises the hellish
vision of London as displayed in the Journal. While the Journal’s many
themes are consistent with literary psychogeography, it is its re-

The pit also evokes biblical associations, for example with Korah’s rebellion against
Moses that ended with the enemies perished in a great pit (cf. Zimmermann 420f.).
212 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

imaginative dimension which particularly stands out. Although the multi-

tude of topographical references lends the Journal a topographical reality,
via the agency of H.F., Defoe superimposes a unique vision on London
that is characterised by darkness, pain and fear. By choosing a pre-fire
setting for the Journal, Defoe
opens an avenue between past and present […] The unchanging lines
and names of the city streets reinforce continuity in time and place
with the past, offering an imaginative refuge from a bewildering pre-
sent (Wall 1998: 142–43).
The activity of walking thereby plays an important role in the re-
imagination of the city, but at the same time it lends the Journal a slight
discontinuity as well: By introducing an urban walker as main protagonist,
Defoe also mediates a particular sense of time. As outlined in chapter 2.2,
walking and rambling through the city only started to become a popular
means of exploring the city in search of urban experiences when London
was transforming into a metropolis – after plague and fire. In that way,
Defoe combines a topographical reality that was subject to change both
during the plague and during urbanisation processes with a temporal dis-
crepancy that mediated a practice and a metropolitan way of life that were
as yet rather uncommon during the 1660s. And yet, this discontinuity and
the temporal gap between the plague year of 1665 and the text’s origin of
1722 prove to be the key to understanding the complex temporal structure
and re-imaginative dimension of the Journal: In the Journal, the walker
experiences London in two different, yet related crises by using the epi-
demic as a framework to paradigmatically portray the negative side effects
of urbanisation on life in the metropolis. H.F. rambles through the London
of 1665 horizontally, but at the same time reveals a vertical London that,
during a period of some 50 years, has risen above the plague-ridden Lon-
don of the 1660s. The Journal, therefore, is not only a topographical and
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) 213

psychological investigation of a city in crisis, but equally a form of local

history that unearths the past to record the present (cf. Coverley 2010: 14).
H.F. is the agency through which this mechanism is realised; his position
as a solitary walker can thereby be understood as a representative figure of
the urban loneliness and anonymity that Defoe felt was an inevitable con-
sequence of overcrowding in the London of the early eighteenth century.
In a city that was more necropolis than metropolis, the solitary position of
H.F. and a sense of alienation counteract the massiveness of the crowd (cf.
Byrd 1978: 25) and point towards the gradual decay of morals and the
“disintegration of community” (cf. ibid.) that came to characterise Lon-
Navigating the city in 1665, H.F. does not allow the plague to dis-
possess him of his topographical knowledge; he instead permits the city to
have an effect upon him so that he can physically and psychologically
adapt to the unfamiliar cityscape. H.F.’s knowledge of what was to be-
come of London after 1665 resonates from the text the entire time. His
position lends him a form of superiority, as time and again he stresses his
marvellous survival as well as his chance to have seen how London would
rapidly change. Accordingly, he is aware that he has the power to provide
readers with a local history that captures every aspect and detail of the
plague year viewed through the prism of the present:
I say, after I have mention’d these Things, What can be added more?
What can be said to represent the Misery of these Times, more lively
to the Reader, or to give him a more perfect Idea of a complicated
Distress? (JPY 170)
Moreover, as a local history that endures until today, the Journal estab-
lishes London as a psychogeographical location where, to use the words
of Alan Moore’s graphic novel From Hell, “despair and terror […] rever-
214 4. “A History of Darkness, Pain, and Fear”

berate in the soil and stones for ever more” (Moore, Campbell, and Mul-
lins 2006: 4.27).
It remains to say that notwithstanding the Journal’s criticism of the
urban condition, the Journal ends on a triumphant note. London ultimate-
ly overcomes the plague and in the end, it is the survival of London that
matters (cf. Novak 1977: 243). The Journal thus can ultimately be under-
stood as
a quiet tribute to England’s capital city, a low-keyed record of the vi-
tality of a people under the most insufferable hardship […] The plague
[…] has not materially damaged the energy and fibre of the people.
While making use of the expected horror of the situation, Defoe in his
recitation has inculcated a feeling of pride (Schonhorn 1968: 398).
Hence, despite calling attention to the negative side-effects of London’s
economic rise and concomitant neglect of the marginal or the decline of
morality, the Journal acknowledges London’s urbanisation and stresses
that despite all the horrors endured, London was ultimately empowered by
5. Grub Street and London Low Life
While today, Grub Street is mostly understood in its metaphorical sense,
in the eighteenth century, Grub Street was an actual street in London. In
1830, however, Grub Street was renamed Milton Street, which in turn has
been virtually swallowed up by today’s Barbican Centre, a “loss of physi-
cal presence” (Rogers 1972: 1) that Rogers deeply regrets, for it obscures
the significance of the term Grub Street. Grub Street was located in an
economically deprived area of London outside the city walls (cf. ibid. 4)
and the close geographical proximity to Moorfields and Bedlam linked
Grub Street to prostitution and madness, contributing to its dubious repu-
tation. It was, however, the high density of publishing houses in eight-
eenth-century Grub Street that eventually shaped not only the area but
also the metaphorical sense of the term. Architecturally, with its many
garrets, Grub Street was notorious for housing hack writers whose living
and writing environment in these garrets shaped the eighteenth-century
topos of the “distress’d poet” who, depending on his literary success to
secure his living, was imagined as sitting starved, desperate and ungifted
in his garret.202 Important for this study is Grub Street’s association with
these so-called hack writers, a term that can be applied to both Ned Ward
and Tom Brown.203 Because of its vast number of publishing houses, Grub
Street attracted many writers in want of work. This mode of “writing as
working” (also see Siskin 1998) stood in stark contrast to the ‘elitist’ and
‘intellectual’ mode of writing as triggered by poetic imagination. Grub
Street and its eponymous writers were thus often exploited by satirists in
their war against mediocre writers (cf. Sloan 2006: 485). The pre-
See also Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad (1735) or William Hogarth’s engraving “The
Distress’d Poet” (1736) that also shaped the topos of the “Distres’d Poet.”
For a broader discussion of Grub Street see Roger’s Grub Street: Studies in a Subcul-
ture (1972).

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017

C. Löffler, Walking in the City,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-17743-0_6
216 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

dominant fear was that of a decay of literary standards, which was closely
linked to a fear of a decay of moral standards and values in general (ibid.).
As a consequence, such writings have been dismissed as shameful and
vulgar (see Macaulay) for a long time. The cultural legacy of Grub Street,
however, needs to be challenged and as Berensmeyer points out,
recent approaches to book history and historical media studies have
had a notable impact on the way scholars now approach eighteenth-
century literature, no longer predominantly as a monument of 'great
works' of literary history or a parade of canonical authors but as a
shifting and changing network of writers, texts, printer-publishers,
readers, and critics engaged in textual production as a form of (more
or less intellectual) labour (Berensmeyer 2014: 128).
The reason for the large quantity of Grub Street hack writings was the
writers’ economic reality. In other words: the higher the literary output,
the higher the chance of making money with writing. As I explain in more
detail further on, Ward, as a relatively popular hack writer, could earn a
living with his writings, but his career turn towards a tavern keeper shows
that a literary profession in many cases could be equated with financial
instability and insecurity. The common criticism of hack writings as low-
valued, unintellectual and unworthy works, however, is misleading be-
cause it does not take the broader picture into consideration. Rather, as
Berensmeyer argues, the hack writer needs to be understood as “an artisti-
cally autonomous but economically disadvantaged […] artist” (ibid. 127)
who had no choice but to cast his literary aspirations aside in favour of
trying to earn a living by writing.204 Certainly, it would be false to situate
such writings on a par with other eighteenth-century writers like Words-
worth or Gay, but a non-reflective dismissal of such writings or their wil-
ful exclusion from literary analysis would be presumptuous. The

It should be noted, however, that the literary talent of many hack writers was indeed
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 217

cultural legacy of Grub Street thus is ambiguous: While it often evokes

derogatory associations, it has also become a recognised mode of writing
in terms of the history of literary communication and discourses of profes-
sionalisation (cf. Berensmeyer 2014: 128). Interesting to note is that Ward
himself points towards the ambiguity of the term, comparing his profes-
sion as a writer to prostitution:
The condition of an Author, is much like that of a Strumpet, both ex-
posing our Reputations to supply our Necessities […] and if the Rea-
son be requir'd Why we betake our selves to so Scandalous a Profes-
sion as Whoring or Pamphleteering, the same excusive Answer will
serve us both, viz. That the unhappy circumstances of a Narrow For-
tune, hath forc'd us to do that for our Subsistence, which we are much
asham'd of (Ward 1698: 3).
These lines from the introduction to A Trip to Jamaica (1699) almost read
like an attempt to justify Ward’s writing style or at least as a plea for sup-
port from potential buyers. Calling his own work scandalous and shame-
ful, he declares poverty to be the reason for producing inferior literature.
As an author depending on writing for a living, Ward seems to be unable
to exploit his full potential and tries to clarify that the quality of his work
is not owed to his own lack of intellect, but rather to harsh competition
and financial instability.

5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700)

Edward Ward, better known by his soubriquet Ned, was a Grub Street
writer. Born of unknown parentage in 1667, little is known about his
childhood or his social background. Ward came to London in his twenties,
and was to stay there until his death in 1731 (cf. Sambrook 2004). 205 Ward

In 1697, during his London residency, Ward sailed for Jamaica to seek his fortune
there, but his attempts failed and, disappointed, he returned to London (cf. Sambrook
218 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

produced a huge number of texts; but although he was quite popular dur-
ing his lifetime – not only in Britain but also overseas in North America –
his literary trace began to fade soon after his death. 206 His place in literary
history today is mainly secured by his The London Spy which is the focus
of this chapter.
Ward’s personal career is interesting. As well as making a living by
writing and publishing, Ward also kept a tavern in Moorfields from ca.
1717 until shortly before his death, so that sometimes he is also referred to
as “the brewer-poet” (Matthews 1936: 116). Ward’s interest in gastrono-
my and his career as a tavern keeper inspired many of his literary works;
indeed, coffee houses, taverns and drink are a prominent feature of the
London Spy.207 The London Spy is not only Ward’s most popular work,
but also one of his earliest. In 1698, he wrote A Trip to Jamaica, probably
inspired by his journey to Jamaica, which was followed by A Trip to New-
England (1699).208 The London Spy is in line with these two previous pub-
lications as it pursues the ‘trip’ format, albeit not in a foreign but a nation-
al setting, namely the English capital. For the title, Ward was very likely
inspired by The Turkish Spy (1687) which already employed the popular
“motif of a country man being shown the town by his more sophisticated
cousin or schoolfellow” (Troyer 1946: 30) and which Ward was to apply
in his new serial as well. The London Spy appeared in 18 parts that were
published monthly, beginning in November 1698. Only two years after the
first instalment, it was published as a complete version under the corre-

To my knowledge, there are only two monographs on Edward Ward (Troyer 1946 and
Neumann 2012). There is the occasional essay about Ward and his literary works, but
none have put a sole focus on The London Spy.
For a detailed reading of coffee houses and taverns in The London Spy, see Earnshaw
There is no evidence that Ward travelled to New England himself, so A Trip to New-
England, unlike A Trip to Jamaica, is not based on first-hand experiences (also see
Sambrook 2004).
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 219

sponding title The London Spy Compleat (1700). The text proved to be so
popular that it was reprinted five times during Ward’s lifetime; moreover,
from The London Spy’s first publication onwards, Ward’s other works 209
were always announced as having been written “by the author of The
London Spy,” so popular was Ward’s portrait of London. He was, howev-
er, a controversial writer and widely known for his vulgarity and “low-
value” writings. Ward fell, for example, under verbal attack from the
members of the Scriblerus Club who, under the pseudonym of Martinus
Scriblerus, targeted Ward’s literary quantity and quality:210 Amongst vari-
ous kinds of literary “geniuses,” Martinus Scriblerus lists
the Frogs [who] are such as can neither walk nor fly, but can leap and
bound to admiration; they live generally in the bottom of a ditch, and
make a great noise whenever they trust their heads above water. E.W.
[…] (Scriblerus 1843 [1727]: 802).
The members of the Club, understanding themselves as the literary elite,
do not attempt to conceal the target of their attack and point towards
Ward’s social and literary inferiority, particularly attacking the low liter-
ary value of his works. Ever since, the value of Ward’s works has indeed
been a subject of debate. Thomas Macaulay, to give another example, felt
“ashamed” of being “forced to descend” to quote The London Spy in his
History of England and regarded the text as “nauseous balderdash” (Ma-
caulay 2011 [1848]: 351). The London Spy, however, is deeply rooted
within the circumstances and conditions of Ward’s literary production and
his Grub Street background. In fact, the London Spy’s mode of publica-
tion, namely serialisation, also corresponds to these conditions. On the
one hand, Ward was constrained to relative brevity for each episode, as

The London Spy was followed by over 100 other texts in verse or prose, many of them
satires (cf. Sambrook).
It is generally agreed that it was in fact Alexander Pope, member of the club, from
whose pen the attack stemmed, as Pope also directly attacked Ward in his Dunciad.
220 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

the serialisation did not allow for long and elaborate chapters but demand-
ed a fixed length. On the other hand, serialisation also permitted Ward to
react to reader responses and to adjust successive numbers accordingly, a
strategy that possibly had positive effects on the serial’s sales figures. In
order to meet the readers’ tastes and expectations, however, Ward was
unable to systematically plan The London Spy on a long-term basis, and
thus had no secure financial income as he did not know which instalment
would be the last.211 And yet Ward, in the typical mode of a hack writer
with the notion of writing as working, employed several marketing strate-
gies to ensure that people would buy all episodes of The London Spy. I
would like to point out one of these strategies, which, as has been argued
by Fröhlich, also has a larger implication in literary history, particularly in
the development of the cliffhanger as a literary strategy (cf. Fröhlich
2015: 190f.). The London Spy is one of the earliest literary works that
makes use of the cliffhanger to keep people “hooked” and to make them
buy further instalments. Accordingly, several episodes of The London Spy
end with an interesting glimpse of the next episode, such as:
We were now desirous of prying into the dark intrigues of the Town,
to experience what pastime the night accidents, the whims and frolics
of staggering bravadoes and strolling strumpets, might afford us. An
account of which we shall give you in our next (LS: I. 17). 212
It now being about three o’clock, we concluded to go into St Paul’s,
an account of which I shall give in my next (LS: VI. 75).

Compare, for instance, the abrupt ending of The London Spy in part 18.
Fröhlich notes that the cliffhanger in The London Spy does not give an account of what
is to happen in the next episode and that it merely functions as a means to stress the
text’s continuity (see Fröhlich 2015: 190). I, on the contrary, would say that the cliff-
hangers indeed hint at the content of the next episode, which the last lines of Episode I
and Episode VI clearly show.
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 221

What is more, in order to attract a large readership, Ward reacted to local

and traditional events that corresponded to the different dates of publica-
tion of each episode, such as May Fair, Bartholomew Fair or Christmas,
thereby further restraining his literary creativity and lending each episode
a sense of real time passing.
Before I turn to a detailed analysis of The London Spy, I would like
to make some brief remarks about its structure and style. Each of the 18
instalments is written in prose. Occasionally, however, the text is inter-
rupted by poems or songs mostly performed and composed by the walk-
er.213 The poems and songs are always immediate reactions to the walker’s
experiences, for example a few “lines upon lotteries” (LS XIV: 265) after
observing lottery players or, after observing the buyer-seller dynamics
between “beaus” and “fair ladies” (165) on the Strand, the walker decides
to “digest a little of their shop language into a song” (166). The textual
disruptions function as a means to illustrate the walker’s reflections on
what the city affords him with. Although by far not as strong as in The
Peripatetic, the songs and poems disrupt the walking experience and pro-
cess the walker’s impressions of the urban scene. I would like to show just
one example of these textual digressions, namely towards the end of the
walker’s rambles through St. James’s Park after which he feels the need to
compose a poem:
Having seen chiefly what the Park afforded, we sat ourselves down
beneath the pleasant umbrage of this most stately arbour, by the pond
side, where I composed this following acrostic on Saint James’s Park

S ure Art and Nature nowhere else can show

A park where trees in such true order grow.

There are a few songs which the walker has heard sung and which he reproduces in the
text. See, for instance, the “Song Against Music” in instalment I (p. 15).
222 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

I n silver streams the gentle Isis here

N o banks o’er flows, yet proudly swells so near
T he pleasing cup does just brimful appear.
J n Summer’s longest days, when Phoebus takes
A pride to pierce the thickest shades and brakes,
M ay beauties walk beneath a verdant screen,
E xempt from dust, and by the sun unseen.
S o thick with leaves each plant, so green the grass,
‘S ure mortal never view’d a sweeter place.
P revailing ladies meet in lovely swarms,
A nd bless each day its umbrage with their charms.
R ev’rence the Stuarts’ name for this hereafter
K ing James the First clubb’d wood,
his grandson Charles found water (LS VIII. 143-144).
The poem is not what one would dub “great literature,” but then this is not
its purpose. In fact, the language and style of The London Spy in general
are kept rather simple: Phrases, sentences and words are often repeated
and the textual composition is designed to be easy to read and compre-
hend, thereby corresponding with its Grub Street origin. It is clear that
Grub Street’s commercial production of literature was a factor Ward al-
ways entered into the equation of writing and selling. The London Spy can
hence only be fully understood by taking these circumstances into consid-
eration. Having pointed out the commercial and literary circumstances of
Grub Street and Grub Street writers, my analysis will now focus on the
London walker, his role as spectator and his portrait of the seamy side of


The London imaginary constructed in The London Spy is characterised by

the walker’s focus on the seamy side of the city and encounters with (for
him) stereotypical London characters. As I have outlined in chapter 2.3, a
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 223

recurring theme of literary psychogeography is the sense of urban life as

marked by crime and lowlife (cf. Coverley 2010: 13). The London Spy
investigates this seamy side of the city, but does so not in the mode of
H.F., who stresses the threat and danger of urban vices; instead, Ward’s
text portrays the underside of London in a lighter, comical and partly vul-
gar mode with “a racy style” (Matthews 1936: 131).
In the first episode, The London Spy paves the way for what is to
come in subsequent instalments and sets the mode of experiencing the city
by constructing a fiction of estrangement (cf. Briggs 2011: 80). Although
most contemporary readers may well have known that Ward had been ac-
quainted with London life, for The London Spy, Ward deliberately sets up
a walker unfamiliar with the city and city life in general. The walker, “af-
ter a tedious confinement to a country hut” (LS: I.1) accordingly sets out
for London which he enters with “much wonder and amazement” (ibid.
2). From this moment on, the purpose of The London Spy is clear:
The following Journal [is] intended to expose the vanities and vices of
the town as they should, by any accident, occur to my knowledge, that
the innocent might see by reflection what I should gain by observation
and intelligence (LS I. 2).
In that way, Ward clarifies right from the beginning who the “London
Spy” is: A countryman with an “itching inclination” (ibid. 1) to visit Lon-
don, there to observe and experience urban life and to personally grow
alongside these experiences. Moreover, the walker already hints at the
nature of his experiences: he neither has a fixed plan nor a predetermined
walking agenda, but, in other words, lets himself “be drawn by the attrac-
tions of the terrain and the encounters [he] find[s] there” (Debord 2006
[1958]: 120). By chance, on his first day, while passing “thro’ Aldgate,
like a ball through a port of a billiard-table” (ibid. 2) – alluding to the ge-
ographical boundaries of the city and his expectation of the city as an ex-
224 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

ceptional, self-contained world – the walker meets an old school friend

with whom he continues his journey. As a side note, it is interesting to
remark on the paradox the walker creates at the very beginning of the epi-
sode: While he aspires to escape from the confinement of his country life
to experience the freedom and opportunities of the “metropolis” (ibid.),
the first impression he has of London is that of a confined space as well,
prompting him to compare the city to a billiard table onto which he, as a
ball, falls – a simile whose elegance can certainly be debated. However it
may be, the fiction of estrangement is immediately extended by further
stressing the country visitor’s plainness and inexperience. Thus, when the
walker from the country and his urbanite friend first meet, the walker
“awkwardly return[s] in country scrapes his [friend’s] à la mode bows and
cringes” (ibid.). For the walker, this novelty form of salutation is an em-
blem of the city’s modernity, but that does not mean he adjusts to it or
tries to imitate the greeting in “city style.” Instead, right at the beginning
he clarifies his position as a walker in the city: while he is immersed in the
urban scene, he remains uninvolved and maintains his position as a spec-
tator. Hence, following the “awkward” greeting of his friend, the walker is
highly amused at witnessing a similar scene, namely the mutual saluta-
tions of a group of men to whose dinner party he and his friend have been
Upon our entrance they all started up, and on a sudden screwed them-
selves into so many antic postures that had I not seen them first erect,
I should have queried with myself whether I was fallen into the com-
pany of men or monkeys.
This academical fit of wriggling agility was almost over before I
rightly understood the meaning on’t, and found at last they were only
showing one another how many sorts of apes’ gestures and fops’
cringes had been invented since the French dancing-masters undertook
to teach our English gentry to make scaramouches of themselves (ibid.
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 225

The walker here is only a spectator and merely observes the scene, mak-
ing no move to return their greeting gestures. This scene in the first epi-
sode helps to establish a double perspective that runs through the rest of
The London Spy and that is designed to stress the walker’s unfamiliarity
with the city on the one hand and his urbanite friend’s metropolitan char-
acter on the other. In fact, although the walker learns more and more
about London life with each instalment, he remains the plain country visi-
tor throughout the text and does not develop into an experienced urban
figure as he hoped he would. The fiction of estrangement in The London
Spy is deliberately used by Ward who, by borrowing the walker’s perspec-
tive of seeing London for the first time and using him as only focaliser
throughout the text, attempts to “sharpen attention and extend awareness
to new people and places” (Briggs 2011: 80). Consequently, The London
Spy maps and exposes the “vanities and vice of the town” from a new per-
spective that is designed to provide readers with new impressions of Lon-
In its essence, The London Spy is a walking tour that, in each in-
stalment, focuses on a different area of London. The topographical
movement of the spy and his friend, however, is not restricted to central
London, but also provides readers with detours to places outside the old
city walls. I would argue that the reason for this is quite pragmatic: after
covering most areas of central London in the first instalments, Ward need-
ed to secure his readership and provide them with fresh material. 214

One exceptional journey leads them to a tavern called Mob’s Hole in Essex, about sev-
en miles from Miles End. The walker, speaking in authorial voice here, is concerned
that this “country walk” (LS VI. 111) deviates too much from the London Spy’s agen-
da, but he instantly offers a good explanation:
I am sensible it is something of a digression, or rather a deviation from the title, but tho’
the feast was in the country, yet the guests were Londoners, and therefore what we shall
observe among ‘em may be reasonably admitted (ibid. 111-112).
226 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

Throughout the text, there is never a debate between the walker and his
friends that walking should be their preferred mode of travelling through
the city. In fact, from the beginning, the walker dismisses any other sort of
travel, for example describing coach travel as far too dangerous (compare
Trivia). Hence, “crossing the kennel” (LS VII. 121) is a “dangerous ser-
vice” (ibid.):
You may well style it a hazard, for whenever I have occasion to go on
the wrong side of the post I find myself in as much dread of having
my bones broke by some of these conveniences for the lame and lazy
This description alludes to the set of new urban regulations that I have
explained in chapter 2.2, such as the sign posts demarcating the pedestrian
pavement from the middle of the street where coaches are driven. But the
walker is not only scared of coach travel or patronises the “lame and lazy”
who make use of it, but also dislikes it for its noise (“the rattling of coach-
es loud as the cataracts of the Nile rob’d me of my hearing”) and its dis-
comfort. In one instance, taking a coach from a location outside the old
walls back to the city centre, the walker feels “jumbled about like so many
peas in a child’s rattle” (LS VII. 116), having his “elbows and shoulders
[…] black and blue” (ibid.) and cries out:
If this be the pleasure of riding in a coach thro’ London streets, may
those that like it enjoy it, for it has loosen’d my joints in so short a
passage, that I shall scarce recover my former strength this fortnight
Water travel is not an alternative either and the walker is particularly ap-
palled at the curious tradition of “river wit”. 215 After a boat ride, he thus
cannot wait to take “leave of the Lady Thames” (ibid. 120), deeply re-

“River wit” was the custom to flood all passing boats with a torrent of abuse; also see
Brown’s Amusements.
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 227

lieved at “being now landed upon terra firma” (ibid.) again. Frequently
observing traffic jams caused by coaches, the walker and his friend clearly
favour pedestrian movement and often take strolls to new public walks
where coaches, for the most part, are forbidden. On these public walks,
such as “King’s Bench Walk,” “Birdcage Walk” or “The Mall” with St.
James’s Park on the south side, they scoff at all “sorts of people, that are
now walking to waste their time” (LS VIII. 125), thereby ironically point-
ing not only at themselves doing just the same, but also evaluating public
walks as new urban establishments.216
Throughout their entire journey, the walker and his friend do not
have a fixed agenda. The primary purpose of their “ramble in the streets”
(LS I. 17) is to see what the town “might afford” (ibid.) them with. 217 The
places they visit, according to the walker’s friend, will provide the walker
with scenes and impressions he has not yet experienced: “As you are a
stranger to the Town it will afford you some diversion” (ibid. 9). Indeed,
the words “afford” and “diversion” in connection with the city and urban
experiences are used surprisingly often throughout the text. The walker’s
desire for “the sight of sundry curiosities” (LS VIII. 146) and a continuous
search for diversions of all kinds is thereby the catalyst for his explora-
tions. The walker, however, seems to have a short attention span because,
as opposed to The Peripatetic’s Sylvanus or The Prelude’s autobiograph-
ical narrator,218 who both linger on reflections and impressions quite ex-
tensively, the walkers’ thirst for ever new sights and spectacles is insatia-
ble. Here, for instance, they yearn for new impressions after musing about
St. James’ Park:
In Brown’s Amusements, these public walks are treated more prominently and are
looked at in more detail in chapter 5.2.
Also see I. 14, II. 24, XIII. 231, to give but a few other examples of the walkers’ con-
stant search for diversions and affordances.
For the latter see chapter 7.
228 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

When by an hours enjoyment we had render’d the beauty of the Park

but flat and dull to our pall’d appetites, we began to think of some
new object that ought to feast and refresh our tired senses with pleas-
ures yet untasted (LS VIII. 144).
The walker and his friend, after “having given [them]selves a prospect of
all the place afforded” (VI. 115), are hence in constant search for new di-
versions and spectacles. Their rambles have the character of a dérive, in
which the walker is moved forward without any specific destination:
Like roving pirates, we sailed about, we cared not whither, till mere
accident and our own motion, without shaping any course, brought us
into a street […] in which we espied a sumptuous tabernacle (LS XIII:
Instead, their rambles are influenced by chance. Furthermore, often just
“following [their] noses” (LS VI. 109), the dérive affords them particular
smellscapes that can indicate the time of year, such as Christmas (cf. Triv-
ia) or the season of Bartholomew Fair:
We wander’d about like a couple of runaway ‘prentices, confining
ourselves to no particular port, uncertainty being our course and mere
accident our pilot. Every street we pass’d through smelled as strong of
roast beef and rosemary as Pie Corner does of pig and pork in the
wicked season of St Bartholomew (LS XIV: 249).
Explaining the mode of their journey, the walker stresses that they are
steered only by chance, coincidences and what the city has to offer. Sen-
sory intensity and its effects on the walker are thus a central theme of The
London Spy. Accordingly, at the very beginning of the text, the walker is
overwhelmed by the sensory overload provided by the streets of London:
The streets were all adorn’d with dazzling lights whose bright reflec-
tions glitter’d in my eyes that I could see nothing but themselves and
thus walked amaz’d, like a wandering soul in its pilgrimage to Heaven
when it passes through the spangled regions.

The church or chapel is not further specified in this passage.
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 229

My ears were so serenaded on every side with the music of sundry

passing-bells, the rattling of coaches, and the melancholy ditties of
Hot Baked Wardens and Pippins! That had I as many eyes as Argus
and as many ears as Fame, they would have been all confounded, for
nothing could I see but light, and nothing hear but noise (LS II. 18).
As the walker himself is aware, he is surrounded by the city “on every
side” and is deeply immersed in the urban scene. In these moments, the
walker seems almost helpless, a state which his urbanite friend’s role as
experienced city guide counteracts: Stumbling along, the walker is always
brought back down to the here and now by his friend, who continuously
breaks the walker’s numbed state by demanding his focus on ever more
sights. In fact, as I show further on, the friend often readjusts or even shat-
ters the walker’s first impressions of the urban scene. In these moments,
the juxtaposition between naïve country visitor and experienced urbanite
is particularly emphasised. It should be mentioned, however, that quite
often, the walker is under the influence of alcohol, which of course in turn
influences his journey and his perception of the city. However, drink is
not deliberately used to alter or intensify urban experiences; 220 it is rather
part of everyday life in the Spy’s London, affording the walker and his
friend chance encounters and putting them into exceptional circumstances.
In one episode, for instance, “the subtle spirits of the noble juice had giv-
en [them] a fresh motion to the wheels of life” (LS IV: 60) so that the pair
not only get thrown out of a tavern, but end up in jail for the night for
rambling the streets drunk. The very brief interval between their expulsion
from the tavern and their arrest is characterised by descriptions of passers-
by that are longer and thicker than usual, indicating the walker’s drunken-
ness. It is interesting however, that drink seems to obstruct urban experi-
ences because passages following remarks on the effect of “the noble

See, for instance, Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821).
230 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

juice” are never followed by descriptions of street scenes or walking expe-

riences but instead usually result in the walkers retiring “into a sweet
sleep” (LS XVI. 290).
The London Spy reveals the seamy side of London life through
focusing on popular London locations and stereotypical London charac-
ters that shape the urban scene. Ward, as a hack writer who was familiar
with everyday life under harsh conditions, understood that London was as
much shaped by its inhabitants and their struggles as by its topography
and architecture. Some decades later, Samuel Johnson, too, was to stress
the multitude and diversity of London’s people, explaining to his biog-
rapher James Boswell:
Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you
must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must
survey the innumerable little lanes and courts. It is not in the showy
evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human habitations
which are crowded together, that the wonderful immensity of London
exists (Boswell 1999 [1791]: 421–22).
The London Spy, although occasionally being deceived by façades and
architectural grandeur, also reveals the darker side of the magnificent city
by focusing on the “multiplicity of human habitations” and the stories that
are hidden behind glorious exteriors. The walker’s visit to the Monument
in the third instalment serves as an example to demonstrate this: The
walker and his friend walk towards the “towering edifice” (LS III. 41), the
“slender column” (ibid. 42) that was “projected as a memorandum of the
Fire, or an ornament in the City” (ibid.). At first sight, the walker marvels
at the Monument and is overwhelmed by the magnificence of this cultur-
ally important London landmark. His friend, however, soon shatters the
walker’s amazement by not only pointing out its uselessness (“the first
thing that ever occasioned wry necks in England by the people staring at
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 231

the top on’t”) but also by uncovering the circumstances of the Monu-
ment’s erection, thereby revealing its exploitative dimension:
It gave those corrupted magistrates that had the power in their hands,
the opportunity of putting two thousand pound into their own pockets
whilst they paid one towards the building [..] All I think that can be
spoke in praise of it is that ‘tis a monument to the city’s shame, the
orphans’ grief, the Protestants’ pride and the Papists’ scandal; and on-
ly serves as a high-crowned hat, to cover the head of the old fellow
that shows it (LS III. 42-43).
Accordingly, soon after the friend voices his judgement, the Monument
turns from noble edifice into a “metropolitan maypole” (ibid. 43) whereby
the walker adjusts his first impression drastically. The target of this criti-
cism is evidently the city’s corruption and exploitation of the poor and
helpless, but it is also more than that: the exterior of the city suggests
splendour and magnitude but the living conditions of the majority of Lon-
don inhabitants are hidden behind the façade. 221 It also has broader impli-
cations concerning the walker’s attitude towards lower-class Londoners in
general: Notwithstanding the comical descriptions of different types of
Londoners, the walker seeks the proximity to London’s “underlings –
servants, porters, tavern keepers” (Briggs 2011: 83) throughout The Lon-
don Spy. His involvement in the seamy side of London life provides an
underclass perspective of the city that many readers of the serial were not
familiar with. Through the walker, they not only get an idea of low life in
the city, but are also made aware of different kinds of social injustices,
miserable circumstances or unjust treatment of London’s underlings. This
proximity is probably at its most intense when the walker and his friend

For another example see instalment V, where the walker observes the poor working
conditions of the workers who help rebuild St. Paul’s (LS V. 79) or instalment VI,
where the walker visits Bridewell and witnesses the miserable condition of the inmates.
232 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

have to spend a night in prison after excessive drinking past hours. There,
the walker describes the inhumane conditions of prisoners:
I observ’d men lay pil’d in cabins one upon another, like coffins in a
burying-vault, possessing only the same allowance above ground as
the dead have under, their breadth and length, that’s all. Other poor
curs, that wanted the conveniency of kennels, were lain some upon
benches […] Others coil’d underneath like dogs […] Some lay round
the fire, almost cover’d with ashes, like potatoes roasting […] Another
was crept into a corner and had upturn’d over his head the ash-tub,
and so made a night-cap of an ale-firkin, to defend his head from the
coldness of the weather (LS IV. 65).
The walker’s journey leads him to other dodgy locations as well, into
“back lanes” (XIII. 230), to unwholesome districts characterised by “theft,
whoredom, homicide, and blasphemy” as well as “lying, perjury, fraud,
impudence and misery” (VII. 120)222 or to other “remote part[s] of the
town” where “there was many turnings and windings in and out of every
street” (XIII. 246).223 In that way, the walker and his friend make visits to
places that other literary walkers, such as Trivia’s or The Prelude’s, would
never dream of visiting. In one instance, they visit a “nocturnal theatre,”
or, in other words, a brothel:
In a narrow lane, as dark as a burying vault, which stunk of stale
sprats and sirreverence [sic.], we groped about like a couple of thieves
in a coal hole, to find the entrance of that nocturnal theatre in whose
delightful scenes we propos’d to terminate the night’s felicity. At last
we stumbled upon the threshold of a gloomy cavern where, at a dis-
tance, we saw lights burning like candles in a haunted cave where
ghosts and goblins keep their midnight revels (LS II. 30).
There, they encounter a number of shady figures: prostitutes and “many
sorts of rakes” (ibid. 31) who afford the walker and his friend with engag-
ing “pleasures of the night” and “various humours” (ibid. 35). But while

For instance Salisbury Court.
For another, see the walker’s visit to a rather dodgy tavern in Instalment II.
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 233

they are amidst such a shady place and shady figures, it is quite obvious
that they do not feel like they themselves are part of it. Rather, they main-
tain their status as spectators as opposed to becoming participants, a rela-
tionship which I explore in more detail further on. The walker thus has a
great interest in the “dark intrigues of the Town” (LS I. 17), both literally
(London by night) and figuratively. Making London lowlife a prominent
theme in The London Spy, Ward creates a vision of London that conveys a
particular sense of place of the city shaped by poverty, crime and harsh
living conditions.
The proximity to Londoners results in a vision of London that is
characterised by chance encounters with people. The walker, however,
does not consciously seek out particular Londoners; instead, the text pro-
ceeds “piecemeal, taking on […] targets of opportunity as they turn up"
(Briggs 2011: 83). In the process of doing so, the walker puts Londoners
into different categories and does not refer to them as individuals but ra-
ther as nameless representatives of commonly recognised London figures.
Spotting interesting figures, the walker consistently refers to them as “a
parcel of,” “a compound of,” “a crowd of,” “a number of,” etc., pointing
out their representativeness. Most of the time, the walker thereby catego-
rises the people according to their looks or their function, in that way gen-
eralising London inhabitants. The focus on urban types in The London Spy
is related to an English deviation from the Theophrastian tradition of the
character book, namely a
tendency of English writers to characterize types, not only according
to behavioural patterns but also according to external appearance and
appurtenances. In the English character, types can be identified by
manner of dress, characteristic facial expressions, and locale (Brand
1991: 21).
234 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

The London characters in Ward’s periodical are used as a key to the urban
crowd and thus to distinguish between Londoners that, together, form a
uniform mass. It is also used to empirically demonstrate the diversity of
London’s crowd, although in The London Spy, much of the walker’s atten-
tion is directed towards character sketches of figures typically associated
with a shadier side of the city, namely counterfeiters, fortune-seekers,
pimps, gamblers or highwaymen. Although he does not entirely omit fig-
ures belonging to other social classes, such as the “City beau” or “noble
ladies,” the majority of his character sketches remain focused on lower-
class Londoners or shady figures. While the walker does not tire of ob-
serving merchants, quacksalvers, astrologers, foreigners, shop keepers,
porters, servants, innkeepers, labourers, and many more, an alteration in
style from instalment XV onwards further stresses the walker’s interest in
typical urban figures. At the beginning of Episode XV the walker thus
Our chief alteration will be to treat more upon men and manners,
opening the frauds and deceits practicable in many trades, also of the
sundry sorts of conversation, with moral reflections on the same, as
well as characters of trades, and those that follow ‘em; and remarks
upon all occurrences worth notice (LS XV. 267).
This is followed by lengthy descriptions of different types of Londoners,
such as victuallers, astrologers, wise men, gentlewomen, butchers, and
many more. While most of these types could certainly be found outside
the city as well, the walker’s categorisation relies on their urbanity (cf.
ibid. 269, 272, 274). Corresponding with the Theophrastian tradition, the
Londoners as described by the walker remain anonymous. This lack of
identity is, on the one hand, due to the brevity of the walker’s encounters
and the concomitant minimal social interaction, as he always moves on
quickly to the next urban affordance. On the other hand, it demonstrates
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 235

the walker’s position within the city, because although he sides with the
underclass Londoners, he does not get involved in their activities. The
walker’s role as a spectator thereby has a double dimension which is
worth exploring further.
An important feature of the city as portrayed in The London Spy is its
power to afford inhabitants and visitors spectacles. Accordingly, the
walker and his friend often visit places and events of popular interest
where their attention is directed towards what the crowd is drawn to. In
other words, the walker and his friend are drawn by the dynamics of the
crowd but instead of blending into the crowd they become both spectators
of the urban scene and of the crowd at the same time. And so, the walker
and his friend often “take a view of the spectators” (LS VII 135), dividing
their attention between the urban scene and the crowd, as, for instance, on
Lord Mayor’s Day:
Whilst my friend and I were thus staring at the spectators much more
than the show, the pageants were advanc’d within our view, upon
which such a tide of mob overflow’d the place we stood in, that the
women cry’d out for room, the children for breath, and every man,
whether citizen or foreigner, strove very hard for his freedom (LS XII.
The mobility of the crowd controls the walker’s attention, because when
the crowd begins to gape at the pageant show, so do the walker and his
friend. In another instance, a gathering of people in front of a music shop
attracts the walkers’ attention:
We added two to the number of fools, and stood a little, making our
ears do penance, to please our eyes with the conceited motions of their
heads and hands, which mov’d to and fro with […] much deliberate
stiffness (LS V. 77).
Again, the walker and his friend take a double perspective of spectator of
other spectators and spectators of what is going on in the music shop.
236 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

Noteworthy in that respect is the often derogatory attitude with which the
walker treats other spectators. In that way, the walker is taking advantage
of his slightly superior position within the city, a position which results
from his mode of experiencing cum spectating that I discussed in chapter
2.2. Frequently calling other spectators fools, the walker makes sure to be
set apart from the crowd and their “unmannerly” (224), “brainless” (103)
and “careless” (188) behaviour. Consequently, in contrast to the crowd, in
which everyone is anonymous, the walker and his friend are determined
not to lose their individuality and thus never to become part of the “mis-
cellaneous multitude” (III. 52) themselves. Their detachment from the
crowd is most intense and reaches its climax during their visit to Barthol-
omew Fair. Just as the walker in Wordsworth’s Prelude was to perceive
the Fair as an infernal spectacle some 100 years later, the walker and his
friend describe Bartholomew Fair as “the epitome of hell” (LS XI. 201).
Noticing that the whole city seems to be on its feet, the two men make an
exception and decide to take a “coach to escape the dirt and uneasiness of
a crowd” (LS X. 179) instead of walking there, thereby deliberately trying
to avoid blending into the throng. At the Fair, the seamy side of London
seems at its thickest and most dense. Carnival was an important part of
folk culture in the Middle Ages and the fact that at the beginning of the
eighteenth century, the entire city still went mad at the event shows that
London’s transformation into a metropolis was still in progress and that
Londoners continued to cling to medieval folk culture.224 The popularity
and frenzy connected to Bartholomew Fair also shows the urban crowd’s
appetite for sensation and spectacles so that the walker describes the event
as “the strangest hodge-podge that ever was jumbled together” (X. 185):

Bartholomew Fair was eventually suppressed after 1855.
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 237

Our ears were saluted with Belfegor’s concert, the rumbling of drums,
mix’d with the intolerable squeaking of cat-calls and penny trumpets,
made still more terrible with the shrill belches of lottery pick-pockets,
thro’ instruments of the same metal as their faces, so that had I not
been foretold by my friend of the astonishing confusions I must expect
to meet with, I should have been as much frighted at this unusual
piece of disorder as was Don Quevedo225 in his vision, when he saw
Hell in an uproar (LS X. 178).
Bartholomew Fair is described as the epitome of hell, inviting a Bakhtini-
an reading of the fair. During the fair, the world seems to be upside down
and all rules, inhibitions, restrictions and regulations are temporarily sus-
pended. There are no hierarchic orders, but free interaction between peo-
ple of all classes and ages. In the carnivalesque descriptions of the fair, no
distinction is made between spectator and performer, as everyone who
partakes in it lives it (cf. Bakhtin 1994 [1965]]). The short duration of the
two walkers’ visit to Bartholomew Fair in The London Spy is thus not co-
incidental: they want to avoid being sucked into the hotchpotch by any
means, as this would imply losing their role as individual spectators. In
fact, the two walkers are deeply shocked by the debauchery and public
disorder encouraged by the fair and they desperately try to escape the
crowd’s “wild pastimes and unlucky attacks” and the “torrent of the rab-
ble” (LS XIII. 229). They therefore quickly become exhausted and “quite
tir’d with the sundry follies [they] had seen, and the brain-breaking noises
[they] had heard” (LS XI. 205), leaving the fair as fast as possible. By and
large, the walker’s behaviour towards the crowds seems to be ambiguous.
On the one hand, he seeks proximity to underclass Londoners and appears
to show “genuine compassion for those who are punished for no other
crime than poverty” (Earnshaw 2000: 119), clearly taking their side when

A Spanish Renaissance satirist. Note that although Ward writes for the “common” peo-
ple, he hides literary and cultural references in The London Spy against which readers
could measure their intellect.
238 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

it comes to their social conditions, their exploitation and their treatment in

general. On the other hand, he does not want to belong to the “brainless
multitude” and wants to maintain his status as an individual who has the
option to also enjoy more sophisticated pleasures or to frequent places
with good reputations. Once, for instance, the walker and his friend retire
to the Crown Tavern which the walker describes as a noble, respectful and
stately facility. Demanding a room “upstairs” which indicates the walker’s
desired superior social status, he finds himself “delighted with this noble
entertainment” (LS V. 89). What is more, the title of the periodical, The
London Spy also alludes to the walker’s ambiguous attitude towards the
city and its characters: Announced as a spy, the walker needs to be im-
mersed into and become part of the urban scene in order to learn and ex-
perience every facet of the city’s seamy side. In fact, however, he never
blends into the urban scene but instead the city becomes the subject of his
utmost scrutiny. In the mode of close observation, the walker is thus “spy-
ing on Londoners for the amusement of Londoners” (Earnshaw 2000:
With The London Spy, Ward sketches an urban imaginary that
provides an insight into the seamy side of London. As a Grub Street writ-
er, Ward had to meet the interests of a broad readership and thus presents
this side of London in a manner that sought to entertain and to amuse “ra-
ther than to reform and correct” (Troyer 1946: 207). Although The Lon-
don Spy also draws attention to, in the walker’s own words, “the City’s
Imprudence, Impatience, Intemperance, and Inhumanity” (LS XII. 226) as
well as “the three fatal sisters, filth, poverty and laziness” (LS IV. 66), the
text remains an entertaining and shameless exposure of London life. The
London Spy recreates the pulsating life and energy of the metropolis by
pointing out its social diversity and the follies and vanities to be observed
on London’s streets. The London Spy and its huge success are intrinsically
5.1. Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1698-1700) 239

linked with Grub Street and the circumstances of its literary production.
Other contemporary writers, considering themselves to be the literary
elite, certainly wrinkled their noses at writers like Ward, defining Grub
Street as a street “inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and
temporary poems” (Johnson 1755: 915). Samuel Johnson’s definition of
Grub Street shows the derogative manner with which Grub Street writers
were often regarded. The definition alludes to hack writers’ lack of educa-
tion, an inability to master poetic language and the short-lived legacy of
their works, thereby certainly also contributing to the stereotypes that ad-
hered – and partly still adhere – to the term Grub Street. Ned Ward, how-
ever, stood by his Grub Street background and made no pretence of it,
straightforwardly dismissing the educated gentleman reader at the very
beginning of The London Spy:
I resolv’d to be no longer Aristotle’s Sumpter-Horse, or like a Tinkers
Ass, carry a Budget for my Ancestors, stuff’d full of their Frenzical
Notions, and the Musty Conceits of a parcel of Dreaming Prophets,
Fabulous Poets, and old Doating Philosophers, but shifted them off
one by one, with a Fig for St. Austin [sic.] and his Doctrines, a Fart for
Virgil and his Elegancy, and a Turd for Descartes and his Philosophy;
till, by this means, I had eas’d my Brains of those troublesome
Crotchets, which had rais’d me to the Excellence of being half Fool
and half Madman (LS I. 2).226
The message is clear and easy to understand: Ward mocks polite culture
and what is considered a gentleman’s education, instead turning his atten-
tion towards life beyond the ivory tower. The language Ward uses, partic-
ularly his metaphoric extravagance227 (cf. Earnshaw 2000: 113) is vulgar

Passages like these have been erased from twentieth-century editions of The London
Spy either completely or have been modified.
Ward almost overuses metaphors and similes. To give but a few examples: “we mov’d
on, but had as many stinking whiffs of Oronoko tobacco blown into our nostrils as
would have cur’d an afflicted patient of the toothache, or put a nice lady into a gentle
salivation” (LS V. 88), “They look’d as tender as if they carried their down beds with
240 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

and obscene, but this is what Ward’s readers liked, an eye turned to the
seamy side of the city full of underclass inhabitants, creating an uncen-
sored picture of early eighteenth-century London:
Nowhere can be found a more effective picture of the times. Ward de-
scribed what he observed and heard – the city and its environs, the ac-
tivities of those who walked the streets or loitered in the taverns and
coffee houses, the political hearsay, the diverting tales told over the
punch bowl, the small talk and gossip of the idle (Troyer 1968: i).
Ward’s concern with the “trivial and unimportant” (ibid. 39), combined
with an informal treatment of London landmarks and criticism of the
city’s vices and vanities, makes The London Spy a unique portrait of Lon-
don. Providing its readers with a “complete round of generic low-life
spaces: taverns, coffee-houses-cum-brothels, boozing-kens-cum-doss
houses, and prison” (Earnshaw 2000: 119), The London Spy casts a look at
a side of London that was appealing, fascinating and a little shocking, and
that readers were interested in becoming acquainted with – preferably on-
ly from their armchairs.

them into the camp” ( IX. 159), “Her thighs were as fleshy as a baron of beef and so
much too big for her body that they look’d as gouty as the pillars in St. Paul’s” (X.
182), “his hat half full of money, which he hug’d as close as a schoolboy does a bird’s
nest” (XIV. 252).
5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 241

5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700)

Thomas (Tom) Brown, a Grub Street writer like Ward, produced a large
literary corpus of variable quality and genre during his rather short life
(1663-1704). Amusements Serious and Comical, Calculated for the Me-
ridian of London (1700) is one of Brown’s works that has received at least
a little scholarly attention, partly owing to its similarities with Ward’s The
London Spy. Other than that, Brown remains what Boyce has called
“small beer” (Boyce 1939: vii), although Saintsbury in his Short History
of English Literature has granted Brown the reputation of being “a person
of more importance in literary history than has usually been allowed him”
(Saintsbury 2005 [1898]: 678–79). Brown has, however, received at least
some minor notoriety with this famous rhyme:
I do not love thee Dr Fell
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know and know full well,
I do not love thee, Dr Fell.228
These lines, written by Brown in 1680, have become a famous nursery
rhyme, although the connection between the rhyme and Brown is hardly
ever made.
In the late 1680s, Brown settled in London where he started writ-
ing to earn a living and for the rest of his life, he remained “dependent on
his pen” (Jones 2004). He produced a vast number of texts ranging from
poetry, prose and satires to magazines, plays and a significant number of
translations. Aphra Behn was among Brown’s closest friends and they are
buried next to each other in Westminster Abbey (cf. Todd 1997: 318f.).
As a hack writer, Brown lived in relative poverty and is said

Dr. John Fell, dean of Chirst Church in Oxford, threatened to expel Brown from the
college unless he produced a translation of Martial’s epigram “Non amo, te, Sabidi”
which resulted in the famous four lines (cf. Jones 2004).
242 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

to have lived a licentious life, frequenting taverns and similar institutions

and being arrested for debt numerous times. Other writers or well-known
contemporaries often came under attack by Brown, who was renowned for
employing the strategy of replacing the vowels of names with dashes to
slightly but not entirely obscure his targets. Even after his death, Brown
remained notorious for this strategy and Addison notes in The Spectator:
Some of our Authors indeed, when they would be more Satyrical than
ordinary, omit only the Vowels of a great Man's Name, and fall most
unmercifully upon all the Consonants. This way of Writing was first
of all introduced by T—m Br—wn, of facetious Memory, who, after
having gutted a proper Name of all its intermediate Vowels, used to
plant it in his Works, and make as free with it as he pleased, without
any Danger of the Statute (Addison 1711).
Addison’s description, “Tom Brown, of facetious Memory” stuck to
Brown, although some of his writings comprise serious prose essays as
well (cf. Jones 2004). His literary reputation, however, remained and still
remains that of an author of witty, humorous and amusing texts. Because
Brown’s writing style and subjects are similar to those of Ward, The Lon-
don Spy was misattributed to Brown for many years.229 Amusements Seri-
ous and Comical is not Brown’s only literary account of London life; oth-
er works, too, dealt with daily affairs of London, for instance Comical
View of the Transactions That Will Happen in the Cities of London and
Westminster (1700). Although many of Brown’s London texts are “a
storehouse of vivid sketches and witty comments upon London life in his
day” (Boyce 1939: vii), the focus of this chapter is on Brown’s Amuse-
ments, motivated by the text’s setup: similar to The London Spy, Amuse-

Curiously enough, his tombstone also ascribed to him The London Spy, although Ned
Ward was “at the zenith of his reputation” (Brown 1927 [1700]] ) in 1704 when Brown
5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 243

ments appeared in serialised publication and presents two walkers who

experience London first-hand. 230


Amusements Serious and Comical was mainly inspired by two sources. As

I have indicated above and as the following analysis of Brown’s text
shows, the style and tone of Amusements is similar to that of Ward’s The
London Spy. Brown, a witness of the Spy’s success, used a similar model
to write about London, and sends two walkers on a journey through the
city. What is more, Brown drew inspiration from the French book of an
anonymous author 231, Amusemens Sérieux et Comiques, published in
1699. Because of the French text’s unknown authorship, Brown had no
scruples in drawing inspiration from it. Therefore, the idea of structuring
two walkers’ experiences of London according to amusements of different
character was not Brown’s own, but rather a strategic means to make
money with a literary production that would very likely be well received.
Just like in The London Spy, the pairing of the two walkers in Amusements
creates a fiction of estrangement. In Brown’s text, however, one of the
two walkers in fact descends from the other’s imagination. “A whimsy,”
so the walker explains, takes him to carry a stranger “all over town”
(ibid.), to furnish him with “variety, and perhaps with diversion” (ibid.):

As there is no recent edition of Amusements, the edition I use here is by Hayward and
was published in 1927. The text consists of eleven amusements and nine additional
scenes. The nine scenes were written as a continuation of the eleven amusements but
were only added to the third edition of Amusements, which appeared in 1707 and thus
after Brown’s death. The publisher subsumed these scenes under the title A Walk
Around London and Westminster, Exposing the Vices and Follies of the Town (cf.
Boyce 1937: 143) and integrated them in Amusements.
, Amusemens Sérieux et Comiques was only later attributed to Charles Dufresny (cf.
Neumann 2012: 204).
244 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

I am resolved to take upon me the genius of an Indian who has had the
curiosity to travel hither among us, and who has never seen anything
like what he sees in London. We shall see how he will be amazed at
certain things which the prejudice of custom makes to seem reasona-
ble and natural to us.
To diversify the style of my narration, I will sometimes make my
traveller speak and sometimes I will take up the discourse myself. I
will represent to myself the abstracted ideas of an Indian, and I will
likewise represent ours to him. In short, taking it for granted that we
two understand each other by half a word, I will set both his and my
imagination on the ramble […]
I will therefore suppose this Indian of mine dropped perpendicularly
from the clouds, to find himself all on a sudden in the midst of this
prodigious and noisy city, where repose and silence dare scarce shew
their heads in the darkest night (ASC 11-12).
The walker’s companion is fictional and a product of his imagination, en-
abling Brown to arbitrarily switch between two perspectives, namely that
of a cosmopolitan city-dweller and a naïve, inexperienced foreigner.
Choosing an Indian, the contrast between the two walkers is stronger than
in The London Spy and the foreign travel companion is probably a reac-
tion to the increasing number of immigrants that came to London during
Brown’s time. As I have discussed elsewhere (Drott 2014), Brown’s
Amusements in this way counteracts contemporary dynamics and practic-
es. Overseas travel and the exploration of new cultures was an important
endeavour in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, resulting in
exotic constructions of ‘the Other’ with regard to new peoples and cul-
tures. Taking an Indian to see London reverses this exoticisation, as
Amusements exoticises the spatial surroundings of London and turns a
domestic setting, altered by urbanisation, into something that had to be
explored anew. The Indian’s exact geographical origin, however, is treat-
ed rather indifferently (cf. Boyce 1939: 147) and even inconsistently. At
one point, for instance, the walker lets the Indian compare the role of
women in London with the role of women in his culture, namely “in the
5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 245

Indies” (ASC 99). At another, the Indian comes across a man “of his own
complexion” (12) and enquires of him which “province or kingdom of
India he belonged to” (ibid.). Thus, the Indian himself, though imaginary,
places his origins in what the English referred to as the Indies during that
time. The walker, however, always speaks of his “friendly American”
(100) or his “American pupil” (109, 119), indicating a North-American
origin. On the one hand, the walker’s insistence on the Indian’s North-
American roots shows his ignorance and disinterest in the Indian’s culture
and subtly points toward a tendency to subjugate foreign cultures in fa-
vour of the English culture. On the other hand, whether the Indian’s origin
is East or West seemed unimportant for Brown, whose main aim was to
present a foreigner who had never seen anything like London before and
who, by his looks and behaviour, would be immediately recognised as a
foreigner.232 To further emphasise the Indian’s otherness, his skin colour
is frequently stressed in Amusements, with different adjectives such as
“tawny” (84), “swarthy” (102) or “sunburnt” (109).
After explaining the setup of the urban exploration, Amusements
starts off immediately, with the Indian “dropping perpendicularly from the
clouds” into the urban scene, where he first
sees an infinite number of different machines, all in violent motion,
with some riding on the top, some within, others behind, and Jehu233
on the coach-box, whirling towards the devil some dignified villain
(ASC 11).
Right away, the Indian is confronted with the moving throng on London’s
streets which he, as an exotic visitor, does not know how to describe other

Further note the colonial tenor underlying the relationship between the London walker
and the Indian walker. The London walker often refers to the Indian as “my Indian”
(94) or “his pupil” (119), thereby showing tendencies to establish a superior-inferior re-
lationship between him and the ‘uncivilised’ foreigner.
A fast and furious driver.
246 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

than full of “different machines” occupying the space of the street. The
crowd and moving throng frequently prove to be a great challenge for the
Indian who has difficulties managing the hustle and bustle. In one in-
stance, the walker even loses the Indian and with a little amusement ob-
serves how his imaginary companion literally gets carried away by the
I call to him, he strives to come to me, but his breath fails him, the
crowd over-powers him, he’s carried down the stream, he swims upon
his elbows to get to shore; at last, half spent, and dripping from every
pore of his body, he comes up to me, and all the relation I could get
from him of what he had seen was; ‘Oh this confounded country!’
(ASC 39).
Via such vivid descriptions of the urban scenery, Brown manages to cre-
ate a broad urban panorama by minutely describing the details of every-
thing that he and the Indian come across. Looking into shop windows
here, studying street vendors there, or inspecting “how shop owners em-
ploy themselves in the absence of customers” (ASC 56), the walker and
the Indian experience the “variety of colours” (ASC 2) and the fascinating
“mixture” (ibid.) London has to offer. The entire account of their urban
experiences is based on London’s diversity and thus the walker exclaims:
“Is not all this hodge-podge a pleasant confusion, and a perfect amuse-
ment?” (ASC 23).
Amusements proceeds geographically and thematically according to
the pedestrian movements of the two walkers: Similar to The London Spy,
the walkers visit London places of interest, such as Westminster Hall,
Bedlam, St. Paul’s, public walks and parks, various churches, gaming
houses, coffee houses, bawdy houses and many more. In that way,
Amusements provides a tour of London combined with “reflections upon
everything that presents itself to [the walkers’] view” (ASC 4). Their re-
5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 247

flections are triggered by a variety of amusements they search for on Lon-

don’s streets. The walker thus states:
I have given the following thoughts the name of Amusements; you
will find them Serious or Comical according to the humour I was in
when I wrote them, and they will divert, instruct, or tire you, accord-
ing to the humour you are in when you read them (ASC 1).
Here, Brown alludes to the subjectivity of his account on two levels: First-
ly, the mood of the reader has a significant effect on how the text is re-
ceived. Secondly, the walker’s mood also plays an important role, as his
experiences of London are significantly influenced by the humour he finds
himself in. Accordingly, the amusements
pass in a moment from the most serious to the most comical strain,
from the greatest things to the smallest, from a duke to a chimney-
sweeper, from a council of war to a christening; and sometimes a sud-
den reflection upon a woman’s head-dress hinders the decision of a
case of conscience under examination (ASC 67-68).
Although most of the time, the two walkers seem to be high-spirited and
shed a comical light on London life, in a few instances, the walker’s mood
gets the better of him. Walking through Barbican and Long-Lane in
“Amusements V,” for instance, the walker is unnerved and “mortally
frighted” (ASC 29) by intrusive rag-sellers who, with their continuous
rudeness, make the walker furious. Unable to pull himself together, the
ramble through Long-Lane ends with the walker yelling verbal abuse at
the salesmen. With his angry mood affecting his perception of Long-Lane,
the walker immediately decides to retreat to roads “most agreeable to [his]
circumstances” (ASC 30) to recompose himself. The path he now chooses
will, after roughly half a mile, eventually lead him to a tavern in Bald-
win’s Gardens where drink will compensate for his experience with the
rug sellers. On his journey there, he passes through Smithfield and “it be-
ing neither Bartholomew-Fair time, nor any of the chief market-days”
248 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

(ASC 29), the quietness of the streets helps to calm the walker’s mind so
that, once arrived at the tavern, the walker has forgotten the incident with
the rag sellers in Long-Lane and finds himself in a jovial mood again. An-
other example for the walker’s mood and its influence on the perception
of the city is an episode where the walker becomes so annoyed with the
moving throng that his mood changes abruptly:
The rattling of coaches, the spaciousness of the road, the pertness of
the company we met with upon the way, the magnificent equipages,
the richness of the garniture, and the pleasure that appeared in every-
body’s face, put me into […] a chagrin […] The humour took me in
the head that I was directly bound for the devil; that this broad and
open way was the road of perdition, and those little blind alleys I
passed by were the defiles that lead to paradise […] Melancholy and
malicious vapours agreed to render me whimsical (ASC 102).
There is no clear indicator as to why the walker’s mood suddenly changes.
A possible explanation is the walker’s general distaste for coach travel in
the city, as he and the Indian undertake their journey on foot, the only
mode of travel that they think can truly provide them with different
amusements and experiences of the city. In any case, his mood causes the
walker to grumpily trudge the way until he spies a graceful walker before
him, a sight upon which his “senses clear up, and [he] was as gay as a
priest that has satisfied his revenge” (ibid.). 234 Throughout Amusements,
the walker’s mood thus plays a significant role regarding his perception
and experience of London. The walker’s mood swings are induced by his
urban surroundings, such as the jostling crowd, coaches, intrusive sales-
men, or the sense of place radiating from certain buildings. The “solemni-
ty of the place” (ASC 111) of Westminster Abbey, for example, “inspires
an unsought devotion” (ibid.) in the travellers and puts them into a solemn
More examples for the walker’s influencing mood can be found on pages 114f., where
the two men visit the graves at Westminster Abbey and on pages 115f., where they are
“little inclined to be merry” for no apparent reason.
5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 249

humour. Thus, the effect of the urban scene on the walker’s mood is not
unidirectional. Putting the walker in a particular humour also has an effect
on his perception and description of the urban scene. With the graves in
Westminster Abbey inflicting a solemn mood on the walker, he uses
words like “wonder,” magnificent,” “venerable,” “noble,” “admirable” or
“pious” conspicuously often to describe their walk through the Abbey and
thus reinforces the sense of place that radiates from there. This reciprocal
relation between the urban surroundings and the walker’s mood is quite
strong in Amusements because the walker’s reflections about certain plac-
es frequently put him into different humours which in turn influence the
way he perceives the urban scene. His humour also has effects on the role
of the imaginary Indian, as the walker repeatedly “drop[s] him […] to
pursue [his] own reflections” (ASC 37) only to take him up again when he
is “weary of travelling alone” (ibid.) or when he has “occasion for him to
authorize certain odd fancies that come into [his] head” (ASC 52). This
explains why sometimes, the walker makes no mention of the Indian at
all, without further clarifying his whereabouts or providing a plausible
explanation for the Indian’s sudden reappearance. Brown’s motivation to
lose the Indian time and again is also a marketing strategy and an expres-
sion of his authorial freedom that, as a hack writer, was often compro-
I’m so far from confining myself, like a slave, to one particular figure,
that I will still keep in my hands the power to change, if I think fit, at
every period, my figure, subject and style, that I may be less tiresome
to the modern reader; for I know well enough, that variety is the pre-
dominant taste of the present age (ASC 37).
With this authorial side note, Brown wants to secure his readership. He
promises his readers variety and assures them that continuing to buy the
instalments will not be disappointing. Publishing serialised works was not
250 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

an easy undertaking, as passages like these demonstrate, but, as I have

shown before, Brown knew how to attract a large readership by employ-
ing certain marketing and writing strategies.
A central theme of Amusements is the depiction of London as its own
world with new countries to be discovered every day. This framework was
ideal for Brown’s purposes: Not only would it provide him with numerous
options to continue his serialisation, it also made him flexible to react to
the taste of the readership or to latest events, and it provided him with an
almost unlimited number of topics he could cover with this narrative
thread. Hence, the walker observes:
London is a World by it self. We daily discover in it more New Coun-
tries, and surprizing Singularities, than in all the Universe besides.
There are among the Londoners so many Nations differing in Man-
ners, Customs, and Religions, that the Inhabitants themselves don't
know a quarter of them (ASC 10).
In each instalment, the walker and the Indian visit a new “country” and
discover its manners, customs and culture. The notion of London as a
world by itself stems from the process of urbanisation London was in the
middle of at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Daily, the walker
notes, can be found new sights, new people or new places of interests,
demonstrating the size and diversity of London. The city’s geographical
expansion, its growing population and its increasing national and interna-
tional importance could be felt in everyday urban life. Public walks,
pleasure gardens or coffee houses became integral parts of urban culture
and so, the walker and the Indian set out on a journey through different
“countries” to be found in London. Thus, instead of going on a journey
abroad, Brown shows his readers that London, although a national and
domestic setting, could provide visitors and residents alike with never-
ending and astounding impressions, making foreign travel almost redun-
5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 251

dant. Accordingly, in “Amusement II – The Voyage of the World,” the

walker argues that “there is no amusement so entertaining and advanta-
geous as improving some of our leisure-time in travelling” (ASC 5). To
make travelling available to everyone, Amusements thus provides readers
with a mental journey “round the globe” (ibid.) with the advantage of re-
maining unaffected “with the vanities and vices that attend such a whim-
sical perambulation” (ibid.). What is more, the walker encourages readers
to discover London by themselves and to counteract foreign travel by ex-
ploring a space that was actually available for exploration. Brown’s con-
ception of London as a world in itself proved to be quite popular and trac-
es of the conception can be found, for instance, in Addison’s and Steele’s
When I consider this great City in its several Quarters and Divisions, I
look upon it as an Aggregate of various Nations distinguished from
each other by their respective customs, Manners and Interests (Addi-
son 1712).
It should be added here that in fact, Addison and Steele take credit for a
few of Brown’s ideas, as they also pick up on the idea of the Indian com-
panion in some of their instalments or borrow entire passages from
Amusements.235 The Spectator is in fact widely regarded as the first jour-
nalistic treatise of everyday life in London; Thompson, however, gives
Brown the credit of realising “possibilities for journalism of the daily af-
fairs of London” (Thompson 1917: 91) before Addison’s and Steele’s
Spectator, thereby not only serving as inspiration for The Spectator, but

The walker and the Indian’s visit to the graves of Westminster Abbey, for instance, has
a strong echo in The Spectator from 30th March 1711, where Mr. Spectator records:
When I am in a serious Humour, I very often walk by my self in Westminster Abbey;
where the Gloominess of the Place, and the Use to which it is applied […] are apt to fill
the Mind with a kind of Melancholy, or rather thoughtfulness, that is not disagreeable
(Addison 1711).
252 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

also challenging its status.236 To demonstrate the variety of amusements

the different countries afford the walkers with in Amusements, two such
“countries” are now looked at in more detail, namely the public walks and
the bawdy house.
In Amusement VI, titled “The Walks,” the walker and the Indian
make their way to several public walks in London, from Spring Gardens
to Hyde Park and to the Mall. As discussed in chapter 2.2, these walks
were an important and relatively new institution at the turn of the eight-
eenth century and quickly became part of everyday life in the city. At
first, the walker introduces the Indian to the public walks and explains
their purpose to him:
We have divers sorts of Walks about London; in some you go to see
and be seen, in others neither to see nor be seen, but, like a noun sub-
stantive, to be felt, heard, and understood (ASC 40).
After this introduction, the art of promenading is scrutinised by the walker
who is rather sceptical towards it. The Indian, on the other hand, who has
never seen anything like the promenade before, is particularly impressed
by the beautiful ladies:
‘See,’ says [the] Indian, ‘what a bevy of gallant ladies […]; some are
singing, others laughing, others tickling one another, and all of them
toying and devouring sweetmeats, marzipan and China oranges. See
that lady, was ever any thing so black as her eye, and so clear as her
forehead? One would swear her face had taken its tincture from all the
beauties in nature’ (ASC 40-41).
The Indian, unacquainted with this public leisure activity, is blinded by
the human parade presented to his eye and unable to see through the
masks and costumes of the people promenading on the public walks. The
walker does not take long to inform the Indian about the delusory manner

For a more detailed comparison between Amusements and The Spectator, see Neumann
(2012), 91f.
5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 253

of self-presentation and the thirst for public acknowledgement on the

promenade, thus quickly shattering his illusion by pointing out the mas-
‘All this is but imposture; she might, for aught we know, go to bed last
night as ugly as a hag, tho’ she now appears like and angel; and if you
did but see this puppet taken to pieces, she’s naught but paint and
plaster’ (ASC 41).
The walker highly criticises the art of promenading by equating it with the
art of showing off. For him, walking should not be a leisure activity de-
signed to present rank, wealth or fashion that Londoners wished to obtain
but in fact were far from having. In particular, it is the boastfulness dis-
played by the people on the public walks he finds ridiculous:
Here we saw much to do about nothing; a world of brave men, gilt
coaches, and rich liveries; within some of them were upstart courtiers,
blown up as big as pride and vanity could swell them, sitting as up-
right in their chariots as if a stake had been driven through them. It
would hurt their eyes to exchange a glance upon any thing that’s vul-
gar; and that’s the reason they are so sparing of their looks that they
will neither bow, nor move their hats to any thing under a duke or a
duchess; and yet if you examine some of their origins, a covetous,
soul-less miser, or a great oppressor laid the foundation of their fami-
lies; and in their retinue there are more creditors than servants (ASC
The walker, however, does not only criticise the art of self-presentation,
but also reveals the hypocrisy that lies deep beneath it. Despite rules and
walking regulations that should bring order to London’s streets and that
demonstrated the art of politeness so important for the English (cf. chapter
2.2), decorum could not always be observed on the streets. On the contra-
ry, the walker describes the disordered state of London’s streets:
Here a sooty chimney-sweeper takes the wall of a grave alderman; and
a broom-man jostles the parson of the parish. There a fat greasy porter
runs a trunk full-butt upon you, while another salutes your antlers with
254 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

a basket of eggs and butter. ‘Turn out there, you country putt,’ says a
bully with a sword two yards long jarring at his heels, and throws him
into the kennel (ASC 12).
What rules and regulations aspired to theoretically, was hardly put into
practice. Nevertheless, despite ridiculing the habit of deceitful self-
presentation and hypocrisy, the walker admits that the public walks con-
tribute to the purpose of his endeavour by providing him with a great vari-
ety of comical amusements. The public walks hold a great fascination for
the walker and the Indian and they occasionally ramble through them time
and again, their appeal particularly lying in the walks’ numerous func-
tions: Next to self-presentation, the public walks were also a place to
transact businesses, to form allies, or to simply meet with acquaintances
or to take a stroll. Accordingly, during a ramble through St. James’s Park,
the walker can identify many such functions of public walks:
When we had passed the Horse-Guards, and entered the odoriferous
park of St. James’s, we found it high change on the parade, red-coats
and laced-hats spread everywhere, and faces that breathed fire and
blood were all about us. Some were eager and walked fast; others
were grave, and looked as if they thought. Here is decided the price of
commissions, which are openly bought and sold as if a lawful mer-
chandize; here sieges are formed, battles fought, victories won; here
Irish, Scots and English meet very amicably, make a buzz, and con-
tend in nonsense (ASC 107).
It being prime time in St. James’s Park, the walker and the Indian are able
to observe a variety of different characters and a variety of walking habits.
For them, the public walks appear like a stage upon which actors play
Londoners “different in […] character, degrees and circumstances” (ASC
108). Hence, these areas “set apart for public refreshments” (ASC 107) are
5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 255

the ideal location for the walker and the Indian to go to and experience
amusements of different kinds. 237
Travelling from one amusement to the next, the walker and his
imaginary Indian on one occasion enter a bawdy house. Having spent
some time in a variety of meeting houses, there experiencing “so large an
amusement of the spirit” (ASC 96-97), the two travellers “accidentally
tumble[…] into an amusement of the flesh” (ibid.). The “accidental” na-
ture of their visit may be doubted, but it is actually a sign of a coffee
house that steers the two men into the brothel. Although he pretends to be
betrayed by “the hypocritical sign” (ibid.), the walker is fully aware of the
disguise and, as an experienced Londoner, knows that “bawdy-houses are
fain to go in disguise” (ibid.). Generally, decoding different signs is a
challenge during the walkers’ rambles, leading them to complain:
We took our walk through the streets; and the first amusement we en-
countered were the variety and contradictory language of the signs;
enough to persuade a man there were no rules of concord among the
citizens (ASC 56).
London appears to be a thick jungle of different signs, the understanding
of which is important to find one’s way through the city. In the case of the
bawdy house alias a coffee house, the walker profits from his knowledge
about urban signs, as he knows:
where the sign is painted with a woman’s hand in’t, ‘tis a bawdy-
house; where a man’s, it has another qualification; but where it has a
star in the sign, ‘tis calculated for every lewd purpose (ASC 58).

The geographical and chronological procedure of the walker’s and the Indian’s stroll
through London’s public walks is conspicuously similar to that of The London Spy.
Their strolls cover almost all of the same public walks perambulated in the Spy, includ-
ing St. James’s Park, Duke Humphrey’s Walk and the Bird Cage Walk, and ends on a
similar stance with the two walkers reposing upon a bench after they tire of their obser-
256 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

Decoding the sign, the walker falls into a reflection and criticises the
city’s hypocrisy by pointing out that in other countries and states, most
prominently Italy, bawdy-houses are established and even “settled by au-
thority of state” (ibid.) whereas in London, brothels have to go in disguise
although their existence and locations are common knowledge. Now
searching for another amusement, the walker and the Indian enter the
brothel where they are immediately greeted by an amusing sight:

We were no sooner entered, but such a ton of female fat saluted us,
that the very sight was an amusement. The reverend matron of the
place saluted us very civilly, tho’ with this very odd appearance: Her
face was broader than the full moon, and as shining, but it was with
sweat or pomatum, not light; her grey, or rather silver, locks were
covered most curiously with powder, whose straggling hairs reached
almost down to her eye-brows; something of a forehead there was,
but all drawn over with the footsteps of wrinkles, which the fat had
driven thence, and so they looked like seams of wounds which, min-
gled with pock-holes made an agreeable mixture over her face. This,
with those and the large scars, was incapable of being clean; so that
the dirt, and sallow complexion, gave her a phiz most surprising. Her
neck looked like rolls of collared pig, and her bubbies like a quag-
mire, ready to over-run the brink or like a hasty-pudding o’er-looking
the dish. An ell and three quarters could not measure her from side to
side, and she was no longer from head to foot than from hip to hip.
She was spherical like a globe238; but, I must needs say, very com-
plaisant (ASC 97).
The matron is appreciated for her outer appearance, the description of
which is not only excessively amusing but also almost grotesque, evoca-

Here, Brown echoes Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors (1594), Act III, Scene 2, in
which Dromio compares a woman’s body to a globe: “[A]n ell and three quarters, will
not measure her from hip to hip […][;] she is spherical, like a globe” (Shakespeare
2002 [1594]: 132).
5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 257

tive of Mikail Bakhtin’s concept of the grotesque body (cf. Bakhtin 1994
[1965]: 303f.). As an individual, the matron is of no interest; instead, she
is reduced to her body’s materiality and enjoyed for the potential to de-
scribe her as an absurd, amusingly bizarre spectacle. The lengthy passage
mirrors the matron’s voluminous body on a textual level by extensively
describing body parts grown to monstrous dimensions (cf. ibid. 327). In-
deed, the matron’s appearance shocks the Indian who, upon seeing her,
“startles back as if he had met with a rattlesnake, or some other noxious
animal dangerous to human life” (ASC 98). Also note how the walker sub-
tly takes up the metaphor of the world again, comparing the matron’s
body to a globe consisting of individual parts (also see Bakhtin 1994
[1965]: 318). The matron is a typical London character and thus a key
figure of the country of bawdy houses in general. As a spectacle to be en-
joyed all across London, she functions as a boundary between the alleged
coffee house and the brothel. The episode is very cleverly crafted by
Brown as he subtly informs his readers about the policy of brothels and
thus lends the episode a mock-didactic tone. Declining the drinks the ma-
tron offers the walker and the Indian, the two men inquire if “she dealt in
no other liquors” (ASC 98) upon which the matron sends “for as good as
any this noble city afforded” (ibid.). Shortly after, two prostitutes throw
themselves into the two’s laps, resulting in an awkward situation between
the two visitors and the matron, so that ultimately, the two men leave the
brothel with knowledge of the customs and rules of bawdy houses. The
Indian is particularly shocked by this “country” and exclaims:
‘What a place […] is this you have brought me to? Is it another Bed-
lam? All the people I have lately seen are mad, some one way, some
another; every house has its peculiar frenzy’ (ASC 99).
The walker’s answer neatly sums up the character of the entire city as por-
trayed in Amusements:
258 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

‘True,’ said I; ‘for the Bedlam you saw in Moorfields is but the repre-
sentative epitome of this town; for we are all mad, tho’ in different
manners’ (ibid.).
The madness of London reaches its climax in the last instalment of
Amusements titled “The Thames” at the beginning of which the walker
introduces the ultimate amusement:
‘Now,’ said I to my Indian, ‘that I have feasted your curiosity with
such variety of amusements upon terra firma, I’ll present you upon
the water with a surprising entertainment that shall startle you much
more than all the hair-brained confusions, or ridiculous adventures
you have ever met with on this side [sic.] the equinoctial’ (ASC 119).
For both Ward and Brown, water travel seemed equally important to Lon-
don life as pedestrian travel and so, the culmination of the London tour
offered in Amusements is a boat trip to Chelsea. What follows is one of
the most lurid and vivid descriptions of river wit to be found in literature
from that time. Travelling upon the Thames, it was custom to verbally
attack all passing boats and to try to outdo one another in “stupendous
obscenity, tonitruous verbosity, and malicious scurrility” (ASC 124). It is
hardly surprising that the Indian is appalled by “the verbal wild-fire” (ibid.
120) and these “water-compliments” (ibid. 121), leaving him sitting baf-
fled on the boat. After a while, however, the absurdity of this custom be-
comes too much to bear and he and the walker are left “merrily reflecting
on the comical passage [they] had met with on the water” (ibid. 125).
During all the amusements, the role of the walker and the Indian
is that of two spectators, albeit two very different ones. The fiction of es-
trangement combined with the perspective of an experienced Londoner
enables Brown to fan out two different perceptions of the city that are in
constant dialogue with each other. The interaction between the two there-
by always follows the same pattern: the city-experienced walker grants the
Indian first stunned impressions but always promptly straightens them out
5.2. Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700) 259

or shatters the Indian’s illusion by exposing the town’s hidden vanities

and follies. Just like the walkers in The London Spy, the walker and his
imaginary companion are immersed in the urban scene but never partici-
pate. In the bawdy house, for instance, they turn tail and flee as they are
sent two prostitutes by the matron. On their boat ride to Chelsea, they do
not join their boatswain in river wit, but passively listen to the verbal at-
tacks of their “navicular spokesmen” (ASC 121) with great interest. An
active involvement in the urban scene would hinder the walkers’ reflec-
tions on what they see in the city, and the walker on one occasion even
directly expresses his vexation about an involuntary slip from spectator to
participator: Visiting St. James’s Park, the walker finds himself in deep
reflection on a gentleman promenading on the Mall, contemplating his
garments and his demeanour. The gentleman, who appears to be an old
acquaintance of the walker, suddenly interrupts his reflections by trying to
start a conversation with him, causing the walker to be rather annoyed:
I considered him with the strictest attention, and could hardly give
credit to the informers of my mind when my spark, to end the amuse-
ment, accosted me in a very obliging manner (ASC 108).
Maintaining his role as spectator and close observer thus seems crucial to
the walker who can see his endeavour only fulfilled when he does not par-
ticipate in the amusements. In that way, the walker has the freedom to let
his mind linger on any sort of amusement for as long as he sees necessary.
This results in occasional strays from prose to poetry which mirrors the
walker’s reflections also on a textual level, although Brown inserts con-
siderably fewer poems than Ward. Each poem is dedicated to an amuse-
ment that has had a particularly lasting impression, such as St. Paul’s ca-
thedral. And so, before leaving St. Paul’s after an extended visit, the
walker “chance[s] to hammer out the following stanzas, in relation to the
rebuilding” (ASC 16):
260 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

This fabric which at first was built

To be God’s house of prayer,
And not to pamper priests in guilt,
Or hold a sleeping mayor;
Once perished by the vengeful flame,
Which all its beauties razed,
Nor could its awful patron’s name
Protect the pile it graced.
But as it fell before by fire,
Which then destroyed it whole,
So now to heaven its heights aspire,
And rise again by coal (ASC 16).
The walker’s reflection on St. Paul’s is ambiguous. While he admires the
magnificence of the building, its status as one of London’s most important
landmarks and its symbol for London’s rise from a destroyed city to a
thriving metropolis, he also criticises the city’s corruption and hypocrisy
that St. Paul’s represents. While the Indian is struck by the devotion and
worship the cathedral radiates, the walker quickly educates him about “a
new manner of worship” (ASC 16): For him, religion and devotion are but
pretence and the worshippers only assemble either “for the sake of their
salaries” (ASC 15) or “for the sake of the music and long perukes” (ibid.).
In general, the walker often exposes and criticises the hypocrisy that he
thinks has become a part of everyday life in the metropolis. Self-
presentation and masquerade on the public walks, the preposterous dis-
guise of shady institutions or pretentious religious devotion are targets of
Brown’s periodical. However, the criticism is wrapped in an overall comi-
cal, entertaining and partly vulgar tone, contributing to Brown’s epithet
“of facetious memory.” Pursuing the goal to experience as many amuse-
ments as possible, the walker, similar to the walkers in Ward, often
5.3. Conclusion 261

uses the strategy of hyperbole for the purpose of portraying the city and
its inhabitants as comical and as entertaining as possible. Thereby, the
walker bends his experiences and often indulges in hyperbole to fit his
narrative. The Indian, as an imaginary construct, accordingly only reacts
to scenes that have already been highly exaggerated by the walker. Hence,
sometimes, the account of London life seems artificial and the reader gets
a feeling that Brown tries to enforce the comical mode on any observa-
tion, regardless of its entertaining potential. Despite all, London remains
the true subject of Amusements and on their constant pursuit of amuse-
ments in different areas of the city, the walker and the imaginary Indian
give a comical and entertaining account of everyday life in the modern

5.3. Conclusion

Tom Brown and Ned Ward are commonly understood as underdogs of

London’s literary history. Their works, however, are an important contri-
bution to literary representations of eighteenth-century London and thus
deserve far more scholarly attention than they have so far received. As
writers with freedom from patronage, Brown and Ward were dependent
on their pen for a living and always under pressure to attract a large read-
ership. Serialised publication was an effective means, as it allowed them
to immediately react to readers’ responses, to the taste of readers, to con-
temporary events, gossip or political debates, or to simply provide readers
with “the novel and salacious” (Troyer 1968: 7). As my analyses have
shown, Brown and Ward cultivated different literary and marketing strat-
egies to foster their texts’ success, among them cliffhangers, a clear en-
deavour (espionage vs. amusements), the setup of two walkers experienc-
ing the city and their fiction of estrangement, topographical progression,
262 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

hyperbole and salacious, comical and vulgar language. The London Spy
and Amusements thus not only played a major role in the development of
periodical literature during that time, contributing to the success of other
(later) periodicals like The Tatler or its successor The Spectator; both pub-
lications also played a significant role in creating a London that was char-
acterised by a perpetually new and discontinuous sense of reality (cf.
Brand 1991: 27). Although walking structures both periodicals, the walk-
ers’ experiences are subject to chance, lending both texts a sense of ir-
regularity. The city, as a lived-in space that appears differently for indi-
viduals, affects the walkers in various ways, depending on internal cir-
cumstances such as the walkers’ frame of mind, naivety and otherness on
the one hand, but also on external circumstances such as the time of year,
the crowd and the urban sensescape on the other. As a consequence, the
walkers are affected and influenced not only by the city as such, but also
by their own perceptions of the city, thereby creating a highly subjective
representation of London that nonetheless does not fail to convey a sense
of verisimilitude.
Because of their lack of classical education, Ward’s and Brown’s
source material always remained contemporary London whose metamor-
phosis into a thriving metropolis functioned as the catalyst for The London
Spy and Amusements. In each text, the journey through London is struc-
tured topographically and covers London’s most important landmarks and
places of public interest. London is portrayed as a “prodigious and noisy
city, where repose and silence dare scarce shew their heads in the darkest
night” (ASC 11). The detailed observations of everyday life in the city
create a vivid and dynamic literary representation of London that takes
readers on a mental journey through the city, granting them access to
places they would avoid otherwise and granting them a glimpse of Lon-
don from a perspective with a focus on the city’s dark and seamy side.
5.3. Conclusion 263

The walkers’ routes in The London Spy and Amusements thereby cover an
appealing mixture of public places like pleasure gardens, political spaces
like the Exchange or the Court, religious spaces like Westminster Abbey
or St. Paul’s, etc., and shadier areas and institutions like dodgy taverns,
prisons or brothels. Throughout, the walkers’ descriptions of the urban
scenery are highly exaggerated to create a comical and amusing, even car-
nivalesque, account of the city. In that way, their vision of London is not
only characterised, but also very much distorted by the excessive use of
hyperbole: The descriptions of the urban scenery and the walkers’ urban
experiences are, therefore, from the beginning, enriched with overstate-
ment and exaggeration so that the reader is confronted with a London
whose imaginary dimension is characterised by carnivalesque descrip-
tions, hyperbole, and vulgarity.
Indeed, The London Spy and Amusements represent London and
its public spaces as places where lustful and felonious activities and the
desire for sensation are the order of the day. In that way, they stand in
stark contrast to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century surveys of London
(e.g. Stow’s Survey) whose main agenda consisted of glorifying the city
and celebrating London’s magnificence. In both texts, London’s public
spaces, “whatever their supposed dignity or importance in the economy or
politics of the kingdom” (Brand 1991: 29), are treated with cynicism, con-
temptuous dismissal and a general indifference towards the city’s order
and coherence (cf. ibid. 30). By doing so, Ward and Brown subvert and
parody power relations and clearly steer their focus towards the diversity
of amusements and sensations offered to them by the city. Showing a
great interest in urban spectacles themselves – although never participat-
ing – the walkers reveal Londoners’ seemingly inexhaustible and steadily
growing appetite for sensation. Accordingly, grotesque descriptions of
London types like that of the matron in Amusements or grotesque exag-
264 5. Grub Street and London Low Life

gerations of spectacles like Bartholomew Fair in The London Spy show

London is presented as, and enjoyed for the fact that it is, a place
where the most bizarre, unruly, and uncontained provinces of human
experience may be encountered and observed (ibid. 31).
Brown and Ward are neither interested in having their walkers follow
rules of proper conduct (compare Trivia) nor in providing a cultivated,
sophisticated or appropriate portrait of the city. Instead, in both texts, the
interest of the walkers is London’s low life and a desire to reveal the dark,
disorderly, curious and seamy side of the city
To conclude, their comical, salacious and carnivalesque tone dis-
tinguishes The London Spy and Amusements from the other texts I have
analysed so far. Thus, they stand in stark contrast to what is and was re-
garded ‘high’ literature. Although both Ward and Brown acquired some
fame during their lives, their reputations in high-brow literary circles like
the Scriblerus Club were far from respectable. In 1712, in a pamphlet
called Proposal for Correcting, Improving, and Ascertaining the English
Tongue, Jonathan Swift complained about Ward’s and Brown’s literary
productions and success by degrading their works as “monstrous produc-
tions, which, under the name of Trips, Spies, Amusements, and other con-
ceited appellations, have overrun us for some years past” (Swift 1843
[1712]: 288). It is true that The London Spy and Amusements do not at-
tempt to poeticise London, but their licentiousness creates two versions of
the city that reveal much of everyday life in London and the city’s social
fabric down to the underworld, providing a different yet equally fascinat-
ing portrait of an emerging metropolis.
6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City
In the English language, expressions and phrases such as “woman of the
town,” “streetwalker,” “nightwalker” or “urban woman” point towards a
sexualisation of female walking in the city. All these terms are synonyms
for “prostitute” and say a lot about women’s roles, reputation and partici-
pation in urban public spaces. Eighteenth-century London offered women
a range of opportunities to participate in everyday life in the city. Crucial
for female experiences of the city, however, was whether a woman was
offered passive enjoyment of urban culture or whether she was in pursuit
of independence, employment or simply had to secure her survival in an
urban context alone (cf. Kubek Bennett 1990: 303). Even so, the public
spaces of eighteenth-century London were defined by patriarchal struc-
tures; in other words, men were the dominant participants of cultural life
in the city whereas women were generally subordinated to the male gaze,
to male authority and to male desires. A woman detached from this patri-
archal order was seen as threat to male authority. As a result, literary de-
pictions of such women and their struggles in an urban context express
attitudes of female agency as dangerous to male authority on the one
hand, but at the same time also serve as educational material for readers
on the other. Getting hold of first-hand autobiographical accounts of fe-
male experiences of urban independence and mobility in eighteenth-
century London is, however, difficult, as free movement through London
and access to certain public spaces was possible for men only. There exist
a number of supposed “memoirs” of London prostitutes, but such mem-
oirs are often written by male authors so that their proclaimed “authentici-
ty” may be doubted.239 What is more, there are more male authors writing

For example: Captain Charles Walker’s Authentick Memories of the Life, Intrigues and
Adventures of the Celebrated Sally Salisbury (1723).

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017

C. Löffler, Walking in the City,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-17743-0_7
266 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

about urban women than female writers; accounts written by women focus
not so much on female walking or female experiences of everyday life in
the city as on their professional lives or their coming of age in an urban
environment.240 Consequently, in terms of mobility, two types of female
eighteenth-century walkers can be classified, which are juxtaposed in the
following chapter: the fallen woman for whom survival depends on theft
and prostitution, and the compliant woman who is bound to rank and pa-
triarchal structures. Both relate to their urban surroundings in completely
different ways and experience urban mobility as either indispensable or as

6.1. The Fallen Woman: Moll Flanders (1722) and The Midnight-
Ramble (1754)

Female motion in the city is often depicted as a transgressive act (cf. Ren-
dell 2002: 57), especially in writings of urban women by male authors.
Male authors of texts featuring a female agency moving alone and confi-
dently through the city thus attempt to circumvent the threat that such fe-
male urban figures pose to a male-dominated culture. As a result, in liter-
ary representations of female urban walkers written by male authors, the
urban female figure is usually represented as a criminal or a prostitute (cf.
Kubek Bennett 1995: 441). Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe is such an ac-
count and presents a woman’s life and her solitary struggles to find her
place in society from the perspective of a female first-person narrator.
Chronicling the main protagonist Moll Flanders’ slow social and moral
decline from orphan, servant, wife, widow, thief to prostitute, Moll Flan-
ders shows a woman’s difficulties to manage life in London on her own.
After spending parts of her life overseas in Virginia or in English

See, for instance, Charlotte Charke’s Memoirs.
6.1. The Fallen Woman: Moll Flanders (1722) and The Midnight-Ramble (1754) 267

provincial towns like Bath, at nearly 50 years of age, Moll, alone and
poor, comes to London. As a woman with neither financial security nor
respectable social status, Moll, as opposed to Burney’s heroine Evelina,
who is the focus of the following chapter, is not able to enjoy the cultural
pleasures of London; instead, her priority is to secure her living and her
survival for which the public spaces of eighteenth-century London and
Moll’s movement through the city play a crucial role.
In eighteenth-century London, respectable women were not free
to wander the city and stroll about in a carefree manner. What was possi-
ble for male walkers and their rambles through the streets of London had
entirely different implications for women. Walking, for Moll, is a necessi-
ty and not, as in the case of the other London walkers, a free choice or a
means to experience the city. The minute Moll decides to step on the
streets she becomes a criminal and starts using the streets, the crowd and
urban anonymity to secure her living by stealing. Her bodily entry into the
urban scene thus becomes immediately connected with her moral and so-
cial decline and her movement through the streets becomes a symbol of
her descent into criminality. Moll celebrates this first entry into the urban
scene by dressing herself in what “pretty good Cloaths” (Defoe 1989
[1722]: 254) have remained in her possession and by going out without a
clear destination, neither knowing “where to go or on what Business”
(ibid.). Out on the streets, she wanders about until she commits her first
Wandring thus about I knew not wither, I pass’d by an Apothecary’s
Shop in Leadenhall-Street, where I saw lye on a Stool just before the
Counter a little Bundle wrapt in white Cloth […] I step’d into the
Shop, and with my Back to the Wench [the Shopkeeper], as if I had
stood up for a Cart that was going by, put my Hand behind me and
took the Bundle, and went off with it (MF 254-255).
268 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

Her first theft marks her entry into London life and makes her a female
urban figure that does not in any way comply with eighteenth-century
norms of female urban conduct. To justify her actions, Moll claims she is
driven by an invisible force she calls “the Devil.” 241 By doing so, Moll
distances herself from her crime by stressing the involvement of supernat-
ural and uncontrollable forces. Nevertheless, Moll’s first theft is not easy
on her conscience and her subsequent escape through the winding streets
of the city mirrors her inner conflict:
It is impossible to express the Horror of my Soul […] I cross’d the
Street indeed, and went down the first turning I came to, and I think it
was a Street that went thro’ into Fenchurch-street, from thence I
cross’d and turn’d thro’ so many ways and turnings that I could never
tell which way it was, nor where I went, for I felt not the Ground, I
stept on, and the farther I was out of Danger, the faster I went, till
tyr’d and out of Breath, and then I began to recover, and found I was
got into Thames-street near Billingsgate (MF 255).
Moll takes advantage of the urban maze and, although she is not familiar
with the city’s topography (yet), she realises the city’s potential for her
criminal acts. After this first incident, Moll professionalises in theft and
appropriates the streetscape to stay secure on two levels: on the one hand,
her growing familiarity with London’s topography helps her to spot valu-
able objects and easy opportunities for stealing; on the other hand, her
spatial knowledge enables her to escape and outmanoeuvre potential fol-
lowers. In that way, Moll’s movement through the streets of London em-
bodies an “opportunistic reading” (Kubek Bennett 1990: 312) of the city
and, as a consequence, the opportunities offered to her by the city shape
Moll’s experiences of her urban environment. For her, London provides
illegally acquired income by exposing her to dangers and by positioning

Throughout her “career” as a thief, Moll continues to blame the “evil Counsellor” (MF
257) to justify her criminal actions.
6.1. The Fallen Woman: Moll Flanders (1722) and The Midnight-Ramble (1754) 269

her in a moral void: The streets are so vast and spacious that she is never
confronted with the suffering of her victims (cf. ibid.) and thus she ulti-
mately keeps running away from confrontation and from her guilty con-
science, continuously blaming her actions on an evil spirit who has taken
possession of her.
In London, Moll quickly adapts to her urban environment by
blending in, thus perfecting her skills as a thief with the help of the city
itself. Two things thereby play a crucial role, namely Moll’s external as-
similation and the vastness of London’s crowd. Moll is quite clever when
it comes to blending into the masses and she often disguises herself as a
fine lady no one would suspect of being a pickpocket or thief. 242 Accord-
ingly, she describes her deceitful outer appearance as
Very well Dress’d, and I had very good Cloaths on, and a Gold Watch
by my Side, as like a Lady (MF 277).
In addition to disguising her class, she also takes on a false identity, never
revealing her true story and background to anyone. Consequently, no one
knows her real name or her exact whereabouts and lodgings in the city (cf.
MF 289f.). Moll, however, not only disguises her class and identity, but
on one occasion also her gender, masquerading as a male thief. During the
interval as a male thief, Moll’s spatial territory remains the same while her
temporal framework shifts from daytime towards night. Although dark-
ness facilitates theft, Moll’s gender obstructs her working at night: as a
female strolling through the streets at night, Moll would have been too
conspicuous because women walking the city at night were usually prosti-

Interestingly, Bartholomew Fair is one of the rare occasions during which she does not
disguise herself, as the fair was a place known for disorder, thieves and immorality and
thus a place where Moll would blend in without disguise.
270 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

tutes, commonly called nightwalkers243. Therefore, nocturnal streetwalk-

ing – with the exception of prostitutes – was reserved for males only.
Moll’s nocturnal forays are quite successful but ultimately, her nocturnal
comrade, unknowing of Moll’s real gender and identity, is captured. Even
though he betrays Moll, she is not found out as she quickly changes back
to her female identity. After this interval of working as a “male” thief at
night-time, Moll is convinced that her gender plays an important role in
her success on the streets:
I was seldom in any Danger when I was by my self, or if I was, I got
out of it with more Dexterity than when I was entangled with the dull
Measures of other People, who had perhaps less forecast, and were
more rash and impatient than I; for tho’ I had as much Courage to ven-
ture as any of them, yet I used more caution before I undertook a
thing, and had more Presence of Mind when I was to bring my self off
(MF 288).
Although Moll is far from being a respectable lady of the middle or upper
class, she nevertheless follows rules of appropriate eighteenth-century
female conduct, albeit in a very different context. Moll claims to act calm-
ly, cautiously, patiently and thoughtfully when it comes to stealing. But
although she fulfils these “female” qualities, her street behaviour and ex-
posure to the urban landscape make her an unrespectable woman in the
eyes of society. Just how much Moll takes advantage of the cityscape also
becomes clear when looking at how she takes advantage of the crowd and
masses of London for cover. For her, mingling with the crowd, combined
with her disguise, becomes an ideal strategy of concealment. She uses the
human masses as a “unit of space between herself and capture” (Kubek
Bennett 1990: 311), a human throng that protects her from arrest. Once,

Nightwalking was a mode of female movement through the city I will look at more
closely towards the end of the chapter.
6.1. The Fallen Woman: Moll Flanders (1722) and The Midnight-Ramble (1754) 271

for instance, after stealing a watch from the wrist of a woman in the
crowd, the masses become Moll’s shield:
I […] bore myself back in the Crowd as she bore forward, there were
several People, at least seven or eight, the Throng being still moving
on, that were got between me and her in that time (MF 279).
Moll often employs this strategy of “mixing with the Crowd of People”
(ibid. 258), thereby continually refining her criminal skills. Her movement
through London therefore lacks an overall destination: in a first step, her
priority is the illegal acquisition of goods and, in a second step, escape or
In Defoe’s novel, particularly in the London episodes, Moll is
portrayed as a female urban figure without a stable identity. This represen-
tation is rooted in a tendency of eighteenth-century male writers to depict
the urban woman “as one who has lost some essential part of herself; her
failure to fear the city reveals a disintegration of her morality and her self-
image” (Kubek Bennett 1990: 307). By the time she becomes a thief,
Moll’s personality is indeed fragmented: She loses any sense of morality
or compassion and does not even shy away from prostitution, as this pro-
vides her great opportunities to rob male clients. 244 In that way, Defoe
connects female economic independence – regardless of how this inde-
pendence is achieved – with disreputability, moral decline and social
downfall. Moll, as a female urban figure, is not granted the opportunity to
experience the diversity of London or to linger on impressions, observa-
tions or sensory experiences. She has to use the city in order to survive in
it, so that for Moll, roaming London’s streets for potential theft is the con-
dition for her economic independence. In other words, she has no choice

It should be noted, however, that Moll is not a prostitute in terms of a streetwalker. She
never exhibits herself on the streets; however, she does not refuse sexual advances by
men she meets in the public spaces of the city, e.g. at the Fair (cf. MF 292f.).
272 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

but to enter the urban scene as a female figure with questionable virtues.
As a result, Moll Flanders presents a trialectic between female independ-
ence, social downfall and female walking in the city. 245


Whereas the focus in Defoe’s novel lies on the criminal Moll, who appro-
priates London’s public urban spaces for her unlawful activities, another
popular figure of eighteenth-century literary representation of female pub-
lic presence was the prostitute, or the woman of the town. To begin with,
almost all female urban figures in Ward’s The London Spy and Brown’s
Amusements are prostitutes, and so the women the walkers come across in
both texts only fulfil the purpose of providing male clientele with carnal
pleasures. Thus, women’s presence in the public sphere, in particular in
public institutions frequented by men, is undermined by presenting them
as mere commodities. The women of the town are thereby not portrayed
as individuals, but as exchangeable goods, stressing the loss of identity of
women in public spaces. The male narrative strategy of branding female
figures in the public urban sphere as prostitutes was not topographically
confined to coffee houses, brothels, or the streets, but also extended to
other public spaces like pleasure gardens or “visitor attractions” like Bed-
lam. Especially the latter attracted a large number of daily spectators,
coming to see and stare at the patients. Although women were among
these spectators, too, their active participation in urban culture was under-
stood in terms of exposure to the male gaze and male desires. According-
Also compare William Hogarth’s serial The Harlot’s Progress (1731) that tells the
story of M. (probably inspired by Moll Flanders) Hackabout who comes to London
from the country and eventually becomes a prostitute in the city. The serial chronicles
M. Hackabout’s social downfall from her first arrival in the city until her early death at
the age of 23.
6.1. The Fallen Woman: Moll Flanders (1722) and The Midnight-Ramble (1754) 273

ly, in The London Spy, the walker perceives the female spectators in Bed-
lam as prostitutes and describes the institution as “a showing-room for
whores” (LS 52) of “all ranks, qualities, colours, prices and sizes, from the
velvet scarf to the Scotch plaid petticoat” (ibid. 51). 246 Indeed, there was
no defined space of prostitution in eighteenth-century London, so every
woman rambling through the city unaccompanied could be mistaken for a
woman of the town. 247 Moreover, there were neither explicit laws nor any
clear repressive or reforming policies against prostitution (cf. Hill 1984:
27), meaning that any woman could be arrested under “drunk and disor-
derly” laws (cf. O'Byrne 2003: 175). Thus, pedestrian movement through
London could be a precarious endeavour for any woman – if she were
walking the streets alone.
Just exactly how precarious urban nocturnal rambles undertaken
by females could be is shown in the anonymously published The Mid-
night-Ramble: or, the Adventures of Two Noble Females248(1754). The
Midnight-Ramble tells the adventures of Mrs Sprightly, Lady Betty and
her milliner Mrs Flim who, after deciding to follow their faithless hus-
bands in order “to trace them through all their Midnight Revels, and detect
them in their Perfidy” (MR 7), set out on a nocturnal walk through Lon-
don. Lady Betty and Mrs Sprightly are described as two noble ladies, and
thus are expected to fulfil certain standards and virtues of the middle

A categorisation of prostitutes was also proposed by Bernard Mandeville (using the
pseudonym “Phil-Porney”) in Modest Defence of Pubick Stews: Or, An Essay Upon
Whoring (1724), who sketches an ideal brothel with four, hierarchised classes of wom-
en for gentlemen of each rank. Again, this categorisation conforms to patriarchal struc-
tures within society, as women are subordinated to the desires and demands of men.
However, there were certain areas where the density of prostitutes was particularly
high, such as the area around Covent Garden.
Full title: The Midnight-Ramble: or, the Adventures of Two Noble Females: Being a
True and Impartial Account of their Late Excursion through the Streets of London and
274 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

class. Noticing their husbands’ frequent absences, Lady Betty and Mrs
Sprightly become curious and want to find out where and, more im-
portantly, with whom they spend their nights. In the beginning, therefore,
the text juxtaposes men’s freedom to wander about the city during any
time of day and women’s confinement to domestic spaces. The two wives
feel deprived of that freedom and their plan to spy on their husbands is
met with great excitement and celebrated with “excellent Champaign”
(MR 8). In order to avoid being recognised, Lady Betty and Mrs Sprightly
dress themselves in “ordinary Silk Gowns, close Capuchins, and black
Hats” (ibid.) to disguise their identity and obscure their middle-class sta-
tus. And although their initial plan does not involve a pursuit on foot, the
women soon realise that their street behaviour and outer appearance deny
them any other mode of transport, e.g. travelling in hackney coaches, for
most parts of the night.
The women’s first stop is a playhouse near Covent Garden where
they spot their husbands; in order to not lose their trace they leave the play
earlier and loiter outside the theatre, waiting for the men. Their lingering
behaviour in the public space outside the theatre249, however, causes them
to be taken for prostitutes aiming to entice males leaving the theatre. Thus
not being able to get hold of a hackney coach, Lady Betty and Mrs
Sprightly decide to continue their pursuit on foot, unknowing of the impli-
cations.250 It does not take long until they must discover the consequences
of their walking alone at night:

Free converse with strange men on the streets was reserved for prostitutes only and
would have aroused some attention if conducted by a “respectable” woman. The hero-
ine of Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina actually envies London’s prostitutes for this free-
dom and, in order to being able to do the same, she disguises herself as courtesan to in-
teract freely with men (cf. O'Byrne 2003: 184).
Mrs Flim unsuccessfully wants to prevent the two ladies from walking, as she knows
the dangers and implications. Actually, throughout the text there are hints that Mrs Flim
(also note her telling name) is a prostitute herself or at least used to work in that profes-
6.1. The Fallen Woman: Moll Flanders (1722) and The Midnight-Ramble (1754) 275

In passing along between Somerset-House and the New Church in the

Strand, they were met by four Street-Walkers […] and from the Odd-
ness of our Ladies Disguise, they took them to be some Strangers of
their own Occupation, that were come thither to trespass upon their
walks (MR 10).
The three women are mistaken for prostitutes and are perceived as a threat
to the actual prostitutes’ business. As a result, the three are violently at-
tacked by the streetwalkers, so much so that Mrs Flim loses a couple of
teeth and their bawls and bellows attract a man of the watch who wants to
arrest the trio for disorderly and lewd behaviour. Being able to escape ar-
rest, the women’s adventures continue throughout the night and follow a
similar pattern: wherever they walk, they are mistaken for “Ladies of the
town, who were rambling home from some Bagnio” (MR 19) or for “three
of the bettermost sort of Street-Walkers” (MR 20)251 – in short: walking
freely around the city at night marks the three ladies as prostitutes. Decid-
ing to set out on a nocturnal adventure, Lady Betty and Mrs Sprightly
break free not only from their domestic confinement, but also from all the
limitations and restrictions that being a married woman of the middle-
class brought with it. The title of the narrative The Midnight-Ramble: or,
the Adventures of Two Noble Females suggests a story of two ladies and
their urban adventures, indicating a middle-class female perspective on
walking in the city. In truth, however, The Midnight-Ramble actually
places the ladies “in a series of scenarios and areas common to prosti-
tutes” and thereby “traces the movements of prostitution (my emphasis)
through the metropolis” (O'Byrne 2003: 186–87). The Midnight Ramble,
similar to Moll Flanders and the periodicals by Brown and Ward, employs

sion. Her participation in the midnight ramble is justified by Lady Betty, as “she was
perfectly acquainted with the Streets which they might be obliged to trace, and knew
the Ways of the town” (MR 8); moreover, Mrs Flim also recognises the prostitutes the
three women encounter later.
Note again the concept of different “classes” of prostitutes.
276 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

the narrative strategy of undermining independent female motion in the

city, as the three ladies are associated with prostitution as soon as they
step out on the streets and thus with moral decline, disorder and disre-
spectability. The finishing remarks of the story comply with this (male)
strategy and also suggest that The Midnight-Ramble was almost certainly
written by a male author. The story, it says,
[i]s very likely to have such an Effect upon [the] Ladies, as to prevent
their undertaking any more Midnight Rambles, lest they should meet
with worse Disasters than they experienced in this: And we hope it
will be a Warning to the Female Sex, not to trust themselves abroad
on any Frolicks, in this lewd and wicked Town, at unseasonable
Hours; nor to venture traversing London, in Disguises unsuitable to
their Stations (MR 26).
In that way, The Midnight-Ramble employs a clever strategy: creating a
tension between the words “noble” and nocturnal walking in the title, it
draws curious female readers by advertising a “daring fantasy of female
independence” only to press the narrative back “into the service of a patri-
archal doctrine” (cf. Beaumont 2014) at the last minute.
Seen as a threat to the patriarchal structures of society, female ur-
ban walkers are portrayed as either objects of male desire or as women
who tread beyond any virtuous or righteous paths, such as criminals or
prostitutes. Accordingly, it is not surprising that there are no accounts of
women walking the city in the manner of the other London walkers.
Walking alone was prone to misinterpretation; when women were pre-
sented as strolling about the streets unescorted and independently, it im-
plied immorality and disrespectability. Walking the streets in order to ex-
perience the city alone, whether by day or by night, was mostly reserved
for men and the only places for women to walk without necessarily being
mistaken for prostitutes were the public walks – and then it was usually in
company of men or at least together with other members of the same sex.
6.1. The Fallen Woman: Moll Flanders (1722) and The Midnight-Ramble (1754) 277

Certainly, there are fictional or autobiographical accounts of women’s

professional or adventurous lives in eighteenth-century London, such as
Aphra Behn’s London novel The Unfortunate Happy Lady (1696), Eliza
Haywood’s The History of Betsy Thoughtless (1751) or Charlotte Char-
ke’s memoirs A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Charlotte Charke (1755)252,
to name but a few, but these accounts do not feature women walking in
the city. Moll Flanders and the depiction of urban female figures in the
accounts by Ward, Brown and the anonymous Midnight-Ramble demon-
strate women’s positions in the public spaces of London – from a male
perspective. Any of these texts must be read with that in mind: London in
these narratives is a space inhabited by women, albeit with cultural as-
sumptions about gender difference from a male perspective operating
within it. Portraying prostitutes and female criminals as fallen women of
the city, these narratives maintain patriarchal power over women and
show that regardless of their independence, women remained a commodi-
ty controlled by men. Ultimately, as the closing remarks of The Midnight-
Ramble suggest, these accounts confronted female readers with the for-
tunes and, especially, misfortunes of female mobility in the city, thereby
not only contributing to the construction of moral standards but also rein-
forcing expectations of eighteenth-century female conduct in the places
reserved for eighteenth-century women, namely marriage and domesticity
(cf. Kubek Bennett 1995: 445).

In order to survive and secure a living in London, Charlotte Charke, too, has to disguise
herself as a man. She eventually became one of the most famous actresses on the Lon-
don stage to play breeches roles.
278 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

6.2. The Compliant Woman: Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778)

By the mid-eighteenth century, literary representations of women in the

city had shifted from portraying the urban degeneration of the female her-
oine to portraying what urban female figures could gain from the city (cf.
Kubek Bennett 1990: 332). In that regard, mid-eighteenth century repre-
sentations of women in the city focused on heroines – the majority of
them coming to London for the first time – struggling to socially survive
in the city and to adapt to (urban) rules of female etiquette. One reason for
this was the proliferation of women’s conduct manuals from the 1740s
onwards, attempting to redefine the role and sexual and moral ethics of
women (cf. Hill 1984: 16). “Correct” social behaviour became a crucial
part of women’s identity and reputation so that many writers, especially
women writers, dealt with their fictional heroines’ struggles to behave in a
way that was expected of them. The city as such thereby played a crucial
role as it affected and manipulated female behaviour in certain ways.
What is more, developments in the metropolis’ consumer culture, such as
the rise of shopping as an important part of fashionable ladies’ leisure ac-
tivities, raised other issues as well: not only were women more and more
associated with their economic roles as important consumers (Kubek
Bennett 1995: 450), but women themselves now also started thinking
about their safety in London’s public places (cf. O'Byrne 2003: 196). With
regard to the latter, it was quite common to portray London as “a locus of
instability and danger” and thus as the “symbolic opposition to orderly
family” (Meyer Spacks 1984: 491) to be (commonly) found in the coun-
try. Frances Burney’s Evelina combines these issues connected to wom-
en’s participation in public urban spaces and provides a good
6.2. The Compliant Woman: Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) 279

example of the literary representation of female experiences of mid-

eighteenth century London.
Evelina is Fanny Burney’s first novel and although it was published
anonymously, it cemented Burney’s fame and esteem as a writer. Evelina
is an epistolary novel, composed of letters between the main protagonist,
Evelina Anville, and various relations of hers. The three-volume work
covers the coming of age of the main protagonist Evelina who, after her
entry into society, struggles with the expectations and dangers of fashion-
able life in eighteenth-century London. Her development is inextricably
linked to London, and so, her experiences of the city are shaped by her
role as a young female newcomer to the city. An illegitimate child253,
Evelina is brought up by her guardian Reverend Villars in a safe and se-
cluded country environment. At the age of 17, she asks permission to ac-
company the family friends Lady Howard, her daughter and granddaugh-
ter on a journey to London. Although Evelina’s guardian has grave con-
cerns at this request, he is ultimately persuaded by Lady Howard who ar-
It is time that she should see something of the world. When young
people are too rigidly sequestered from it, their lively and romantic
imaginations paint it to them as a paradise of which they have been
beguiled; but when they are shown it properly, and in due time, they
see it such as it really is, equally shared by pain and pleasure, hope
and disappointment (Evelina 1997 [1778]: 62).
London and the introduction to life in the city, it seems, are necessary
stages in a girl’s life and her development. Lady Howard’s presumptions
prove to be true, and Evelina’s experiences in London crucially shape her
as she develops from an innocent country girl into a woman with a secure
position in society. The road there, however, is long and hard and navi-
Although her parentage is known, Evelina’s father does not acknowledge her as his
child, making her illegitimate.
280 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

gating her way through the cultural landscape of the city, Evelina has to
overcome obstacles and suffer humiliations of various kinds.
Upon her arrival in London, Evelina must soon realise that there
is a different set of standards and propriety in the city, one that is signifi-
cantly different to what she is accustomed to in her usual, secluded coun-
try environment. To have a chance in London, she understands she needs
to adjust. Accordingly, in her first letter to her guardian, she explains she
must “Londonize” (Evelina 70) as fast as possible in order to furnish her-
self with the latest fashions in dress and social behaviour. Although dress
can outwardly disguise Evelina’s country origin, her inexperience with
social etiquette soon causes embarrassment and humiliation: During her
first private ball in the city, she breaches “the rules of assemblies”
(Evelina 79) by “refusing one partner, and afterwards accepting another”
(ibid.), thus not following the social etiquette expected of her during a
dance. Evelina becomes aware of this impropriety only when it is too late,
and she is accused of ill manners by her first suitor. The lesson she must
learn from this experience is that social behaviour is equally important for
her social reputation and reception among upper class city circles as don-
ning an urban costume. Nevertheless, Evelina remains prone to social rid-
icule and continues having difficulties adjusting to London life and cul-
ture. In a letter to her guardian, Evelina confesses that she is “[n]ot half so
happy here at present, as I was ere I went to town: but the change is in the
place, not in me” (Evelina 162). Evelina grants a large amount of agency
not to herself but to the city as a place that requires adjustment. Ripped
out of her familiar surroundings, Evelina discovers a place that demands
different behaviour and demeanour and that refuses to accept her country
identity. On the contrary, London controls Evelina’s desires, ambitions
and expectations, demanding the process of “Londonisation” from her. In
6.2. The Compliant Woman: Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) 281

that way, she is manipulated by the city which forces her to adapt to Lon-
don decorum, expectations, conventions, morals and manners, thus mak-
ing Evelina impressionable, vulnerable and passive.
Evelina’s passivity and vulnerability are inextricably linked to her
role as a woman. Partaking in various leisure activities in London, Evelina
is a female cultural consumer. For her,
certain cultural gatherings become the main attraction of the city, and
these are always socially hierarchical events, demanding proper dress
and male attendants, which reinforce the roles women are expected to
play (Kubek Bennett 1990: 327).
The crucial point in her role as consumer is the power of gender-related
norms and expectations which expected women to partake in London cul-
ture and leisure, thus also making them cultural performers. The demand
to “Londonise” dominates Evelina’s stay in the city, prompting her to par-
ticipate in materialistic aspects of culture on the one hand and in society-
related interactions on the other. Accordingly, within the first few days in
the city, Evelina has her hair dressed in fashionable London style and goes
“a shopping […] to buy silks, caps, gauzes, and so forth” (Evelina 72). To
blend in, Evelina adjusts her appearance, but this also entails becoming a
desirable object for men: Attending balls and dances, another way to con-
sume and perform culture, she becomes a commodity that is extensively
eyed by the male attendees of the ball:
The gentlemen, as they passed and repassed, looked as if they thought
we were quite at their disposal, and only waiting for the honour of
their commands; and they sauntered about, in a careless indolent man-
ner (Evelina 74).
In eighteenth-century middle-class urban culture, women were expected
to obey social etiquette, even though it implicated their objectification.
Evelina’s treatment as a commodity by male Londoners continues
282 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

throughout her stay in the city and in the course of her visit, she has to
learn to distinguish between honest and noble gentlemen, men that take
advantage of her, and men that see in her a target for ridicule. An unpleas-
ant suitor of hers, for instance, assesses her value with regard to her coun-
try upbringing and her concomitant urban inexperience, evaluating her
suitability for city life by patronising her:
Doubtless, Ma’am, every thing must be infinitely novel to you. Our
customs, our manners, and les etiquettes de nous autres, can have very
little resemblance to those you have been used to. I imagine, Ma’am,
your retirement is at no very small distance from the capital?”
(Evelina 125).
Upon this remark, Evelina remains silent, as etiquette forbids her to show
her vexation and anger. The passage, however, also shows that Evelina
has not yet entirely lost her country demeanour, making her recognisable
as an outsider. Visitors from the country to the city are, as previous anal-
yses have shown, automatically associated with naivety and inexperience,
but as Evelina is not permitted to stand up for herself the ridicule has a
negative impact on her social reception as it only reinforces her country-
lass reputation. In that way, women’s engagement in urban culture also
entailed bowing to male authority and putting up with female objectifica-
Female susceptibility to culture, leisure and consumerism was
owed to an increased mobility through public interaction in theatres,
pleasure gardens, public walks, and so on. Women thus participated in
everyday urban life and occupied the same public spaces as men, but these
spaces had other effects on and implications for women, for example re-
garding first impressions or possible dangers. As Lady Howard had right-
fully predicted, Evelina’s first impressions of public urban sites are cher-
ished in agitated, excited, magnified and romantic descriptions in letters to
6.2. The Compliant Woman: Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) 283

her guardian. On her first visit to Ranelagh, for instance, she is enchanted
by the pleasure garden:
[W]e went to Ranelagh. It is a charming place, and the brilliancy of
the lights, on my first entrance, made me almost think I was in some
inchanted [sic.] castle, or fairy palace, for all looked like magic to me
(Evelina 82).
Evelina conforms with contemporary perceptions of female personality in
that her perceptions of the urban scene rely “on imagination, on the non-
rational quality of the appreciation of beauty, on the importance of feel-
ing” (Brewer 1995: 354). Descriptions of concerts, theatre plays, operas,
fireworks, dances, and so forth, are in the same style and manner, empha-
sising the “most brilliant and gay appearance” (Evelina 235) of these ur-
ban offers and their “heavenly” (ibid.) manner and enchanting potential.
This enchanted, illusory female perception of the cultural landscape of
London can be found in other contemporary texts as well. Smollett’s The
Expedition of Humphry Clinker, for instance, strongly contrasts male and
female perceptions of Vauxhall gardens. Whereas Matt Bramble, one of
the main characters, perceives the pleasure garden as an unnatural “com-
position of baubles, overcharged with paltry ornaments, ill conceived, and
poorly executed; without any unity of design, or propriety of disposition”,
Lydia, the female (innocent) visitor to the city, is “dazzled and confound-
ed with the variety of beauties that rushed all at once upon [her] eye”
(Smollett 2009 [1771]: 102). The cultural sphere of London, therefore, as
perceived through the eyes of a young, innocent and impressionable fe-
male with a country upbringing, significantly differs from male percep-
tions of the city. Evelina’s innocent and enthusiastic appreciation of Lon-
don’s cultural landscape thus stands in stark contrast to writings about
London that expose the vices and follies of the town, such as Ward’s or
Brown’s Grub Street periodicals.
284 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

Women’s cultural susceptibility also exposed them to dangers

male Londoners were immune to. In two instances, Evelina puts herself in
danger in the pleasure garden with whose cultural and gender-related im-
plications she is not yet well acquainted. Straying off from her party,
Evelina finds herself in a long dark alley in Vauxhall Gardens, where she
is mistaken for a prostitute and sexually harassed by a group of men (cf.
Evelina 237f.). Although this experience has a lasting impression on her,
it does not prevent her from getting into a similar situation at Marylebone
Gardens, where the noise and spectacle of fireworks leads to her separa-
tion from her group yet again. Knowing not whither she has run, she again
becomes an object of sexual desire: Walking “in disordered haste, from
place to place, without knowing which way to turn” (Evelina 273),
Evelina is spoken to “by some bold and unfeeling men” (ibid.), one of
whom whispers in her ear: “Come along with me, my dear, and I’ll take
care of you” (ibid.). Clearly, Evelina is unaware of the sexual implications
of certain areas of pleasure gardens and ignorantly puts herself forward as
a woman looking for sexual encounters. Ironically, she is rescued from the
latter situation by a pair of actual prostitutes who violently link arms with
her and make her walk between them, much to Evelina’s dismay. Stum-
bling from the danger of the dark alley into the danger of compromising
her social reputation by being seen with two prostitutes, Evelina maintains
her status as passive female figure all the same:
Had I been at liberty, I should have instantly run away from them
when I made the shocking discovery: but, as they held me fast, that
was utterly impossible: and such was my dread of their resentment or
abuse that I did not dare make any open attempt to escape (Evelina
Her fear of the two prostitutes’ resentment hinders her from seeing them
off and finding the way back on her own, and she must accept the possi-
6.2. The Compliant Woman: Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) 285

bility that her suitor Lord Orville might see her together with the two
bawds. The passivity and numbness imposed upon Evelina by the public
urban sphere hinders her coming of age, so much so that even her guardi-
an urges her to overcome her submission to the city:
[Y]ou must learn not only to judge but to act for yourself; if any
schemes are started, any engagements made, which your understand-
ing represents to you as improper, exert yourself resolutely in avoid-
ing them; and do not, by a too passive facility, risk the censure of the
world, or your own future regret (Evelina 205).
On the insistence of her guardian, Evelina must not be an impressionable
and passive young lady; she must not let herself be numbed and over-
whelmed by the city but has to grow and gain confidence within the urban
In Evelina, the female heroine struggles for social acceptance in
London. Her initiation into London life is characterised by her role as a
cultural consumer on the one hand and by her role as passive object of
sexual consumption on the other (cf. Kubek Bennett 1995: 440). As a fe-
male figure in the urban scene, it is expected of her to consume material
goods and attend appropriate social events so that her “choices as a con-
sumer […] become the primary signs of her value” (cf. ibid. 450). As a
consequence, her freedom in the city is restricted and determined by cul-
tural norms and social expectations. From the start, however, her inexpe-
rience and country upbringing have ill-prepared her for her entrance into
fashionable London society, a fact she is aware of herself:
I am too inexperienced and ignorant to conduct myself with propriety
in this town, where every thing is new to me, and many things are un-
accountable and perplexing (Evelina 94).
Exposed to the public sphere and repeatedly humiliated and embarrassed,
Evelina is vulnerable to sexual molestation and becomes a sexual object
286 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

desired to be consumed. In that way, Evelina depicts a heroine who is

pressured by society to acquiesce to patriarchal standards of the “femi-
nine” (cf. Kubek Bennett 1995: 450) in order to be socially accepted and
ultimately to find her marriage match. The heroine has to adjust to urban
culture by accepting what the public expects of her, even if it means sub-
ordination and obedience to male authority. As a consequence, she is not
in a position to move freely in and about London or to take solitary strolls
through the urban scene, because this is not what a “proper lady” (Poovey
1984) would do. When, by accident, she does find herself alone, like in
Vauxhall or Marylebone, she is utterly helpless and does not know what
to do. Evelina, as an impressionable and compliant young lady in London,
has profoundly different experiences of London from the male walkers of
this study. For her, the city’s public spaces are available, but her consum-
erist and social behaviour is prescribed by society and thus becomes re-
stricted. As a result, Evelina hardly moves through the city on foot; when
she does, her pedestrian movement is confined to public areas specifically
designed for walking, such as the pleasure gardens or the Mall.
With her novel, Burney contributed to mid-eighteenth century
literary developments that saw fictional heroines in London as urban con-
sumers, commodities and as submissive to expectations of female conduct
and etiquette. For her female readers Burney provides a portrait of London
that confronts women with dangers her readership might have been ac-
quainted with; at the same time, Evelina exposes the public places of
London as harbouring certain dangers for women. In Burney’s novel,
readers see London through the eyes of a young, inexperienced female
6.3. Conclusion 287

whose various urban adventures demonstrate how differently the city was
read by females. It remains to say, however, that Burney’s Evelina is not
only about a female protagonist’s complete surrender to a patriarchal soci-
ety. It is also a coming of age story that addresses “the issue of what sort
of place a young woman can take, what sort of power she may wield,
within the patriarchally organised society of late eighteenth-century Eng-
land” (Spencer 2007: 23). The epistolary form not only grants readers a
view of London through the eyes of an innocent female, but also covertly
criticises London’s consumer society. In the end, however, Evelina must
give in to the biggest social expectation of all: Although she matures in
London and partly sheds her naivety and social insecurity, she ultimately
enters into a marital relationship, thus fleeing from the security and pro-
tection of her former male guardian into the care of another.

6.3. Conclusion

Women’s experiences of and mobility in eighteenth-century London were

profoundly different from that of men. Although class, age and rank also
played important roles concerning the nature of individual female urban
experiences, eighteenth-century gender-related norms and conventions
contributed to the notion that urban explorations should be reserved for
men only. While the spatial practices of male walkers are characterised by
free movement and unrestricted motion through eighteenth-century Lon-
don, women’s spatial practices are much more limited. The literary repre-
sentations of female walkers and their urban movements therefore belong
to a discourse that took up certain eighteenth-century gender ideologies on
the one hand, and that also produced and reinforced such ideologies on the
other. In that way, such texts were an important contribution to the for-
mation and social construction of male and female mobility in eighteenth-
288 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

century public spaces. As the analyses have shown, female walkers as rep-
resented in the selected texts can thereby be roughly classified as two dif-
ferent types, namely the fallen woman and the compliant woman. Interest-
ingly, the former type is primarily represented by male authors who aimed
at undermining women’s active and independent participation in public
urban life. In such texts, independent women lacking a patriarchal back-
drop and moving freely through the city are synonymous with criminals
and prostitutes. While their sole struggles in an urban environment are
momentarily sustained in favour of an exciting narrative, these women
ultimately fail in the city, either by way of being arrested or imprisoned
(Moll Flanders), by being pushed to the margins of society (prostitutes,
female characters in The London Spy and Amusements), or by being re-
confined to domesticity (A Midnight-Ramble). Thus, narratives written by
male authors about female walkers in the eighteenth-century city conflate
morality and mobility by equating independent female movement with
eventual social and moral downfall.
By the mid-eighteenth century and with the rise of the middle
class, spaces became increasingly gendered. It is already at that time that
the ideology of separate spheres that reached its peak in the Victorian era
slowly evolves: This ideology divides public and private (the city and the
home), assigning public spaces (the city) to men and private spaces (the
home) to women (also see Rendell 2002: 150). This ideology of gendered
space which ultimately excludes women from the public altogether is al-
ready faintly visible in Evelina, where the heroine has to learn that public
spaces are not made for solitary rambles conducted by women. For a
young unmarried woman, London is mostly a city of appearances and ap-
propriate conduct; whenever Evelina does not stick to moral standards or
social expectations, she gets caught up in a maelstrom of female-specific
6.3. Conclusion 289

urban problematics (cf. Meyer Spacks 1984: 500). Although London be-
comes a rite of passage for the heroine, Evelina soon realises that a wom-
an was only to experience public London if she acquiesced to proper con-
duct and patriarchal structures. This ultimately meant that for women who
actively participated in London life and culture, reputation became a sub-
stitute for personality and prohibited independent movement through the
city (cf. Kubek Bennett 1990: 319). Women’s urban experiences were
consequently prescribed and restricted with no room for independent, ex-
perience-focused pedestrian movement through the city. Instead, patriar-
chal structures manipulated female urban experiences before these experi-
ences could be made in the first place, so that the city could not play
freely upon women’s minds. The restrictiveness and manipulation of fe-
male urban experiences thus also demonstrates that walking through the
city on foot, detached from patriarchal or hierarchical shackles, played a
crucial role in facilitating psychogeographical explorations of the city.
From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, female active participa-
tion became even more restrictive. While Evelina is still involved in urban
life, albeit as a compliant woman submissive to patriarchal structures, the
ideal Victorian woman was entirely excluded from the public sphere and
obediently had to play her role as “the angel of the house.” In the course
of this development towards the ideology of separate spheres, however,
women also found themselves in intermediate stages. In a letter to Dor-
othea Wordsworth, for instance, Charles Lamb, freshly arrived in the city
and lodging in Covent Garden, writes about his wife’s experiences of
London, explaining:
We are in the individual spot I like best in all this great city. The thea-
tres with all their noises. Covent Garden, dearer to me than the gar-
dens of Alcinous, where we are morally sure of the earliest peas and
‘sparagus. Bow Street, where the thieves are examined within a few
290 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

yards of us. Mary had not been here four and twenty hours before she
saw a thief. She sits at the window working; and casually throwing out
her eyes, she sees a concourse of people coming this way, with a con-
stable to conduct the solemnity. These little incidents agreeably diver-
sify a female life (Lamb 1975 [November 21, 1817]: 218).
Lamb’s wife sits within the confined space of her home, but through her
window she still has access to the city. Although her experiences are lim-
ited and concentrated only on a small field of vision, she is not yet sealed
off from public life entirely.254
Finally, what both types of women, the fallen woman and the
compliant woman, have in common is their exposure to the male gaze.
Originating from visual arts, the male gaze describes a tendency to view
women from a masculine perspective, entailing a display of women as
sexual and commodified objects of desire (see Mulvey 1975). In the texts,
I have discussed, too, female protagonists and female characters are
framed in such a way that the reader is situated in a masculine position.
Evelina is not only an available “product” on the marriage market, she,
like the ladies in The Midnight-Ramble, also becomes a sexual object.
Moll Flanders’ experiences in the urban environment, too, are controlled
by a male author who ultimately lets her fail in the city. The male gaze,

Ultimately, however, in the 1820s, the so-called Vagrancy Acts licitly controlled female
urban movement by ordering that “all common Prostitutes or Night Walkers wandering
in the public Streets or public Highways, not giving a satisfactory Account of them-
selves, shall be deemed idle and disorderly Persons; and it shall and may be lawful for
any Justice of the Peace to commit such Offenders […] to the House of Correction,
there to be kept to hard labour for any Time not exceeding One Calendar Month”
(Great Britain 1822: 134).

Although the act is directed at prostitutes selling their services on the streets, it also
contains important implications for female urban movement in general. All females
walking in the city alone could be mistaken for prostitutes, as texts like Evelina or The
Midnight-Ramble have shown; as a consequence, in the worst case any woman walking
the city alone had to face arrest and imprisonment, and therefore loss of reputation and
6.3. Conclusion 291

however, is not only limited to prostitutes or criminals. Women appropri-

ately perambulating in public walks are interpreted in purely sexual terms
as well. The walkers in Amusements observe “experienced coquets” (ASC
45) seducing gentlemen, or daughters who have run off to the parks’ “lit-
tle wildernesses” (ibid. 40) for sexual adventures. Visibly rich ladies
strolling in the public walks are reduced to their outer appearance and de-
meanour and thus become objects of the male gaze. In short, women are
hierarchised and commodified in London’s public spheres and the texts
work to control them, contributing to what Kubek calls “the transfor-
mation of active female members of London society into commodified
objects of a scopophilic gaze” (Kubek Bennett 1995: 444). To conclude,
female visions and experiences of eighteenth-century London are influ-
enced by a number of factors. Firstly, male-dominated and patriarchally
controlled spaces manipulated women’s active participation in public
space by suppressing female movement and motion that deviated from
social standards. The commodification of women and their exposure to
the male gaze thereby played a crucial role in the way literary texts con-
tributed to the reinforcement and evolvement of gender-related values and
norms. Accordingly, the passive enjoyment of culture and women’s con-
comitant inhibited use of public spaces were spatial expressions of patri-
archy (Valentine 1989: 385). Secondly, women participating in public
urban life were either portrayed as prostitutes or criminals 255, or as com-
pliant subordinate women who gave in to patriarchal rule. For the latter, it
was not uncommon to have romantic, naïve and fairy-tale like visions of
the city’s public spaces that, once these young women experienced these
spaces first-hand, were quickly shattered. Moreover, respectable women
straying off righteous and virtuous paths either found themselves in great
Also see John Gay’s Trivia in which the majority of women are either portrayed as
pickpockets or needy prostitutes.
292 6. Women Walkers and Female Experiences of the City

danger or were misidentified as immoral women. The chapter has thus

shown how the spatial practices and spatial politics of female walkers in
the cityscape of eighteenth-century London are profoundly different from
those of male walkers, so that “for a man, eighteenth-century London pro-
vided all that life could offer. For a woman, its provision might prove
more problematic” (Meyer Spacks 1984: 485).
7. Romantic Visions of the City:
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805)
Towards the end of the eighteenth and turn of the nineteenth century, re-
sponses to the city had shifted from admiration, attraction and fascination
to more grave concerns over the nature of life in the metropolis. The Ro-
mantic poets in particular showed concerns with the masses and their insa-
tiable appetite for spectacles, as well as with potential unrest and possible
disorder. In the preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth warns
a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a
combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and,
unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost
savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are […] the increas-
ing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occu-
pations produces a craving for extraordinary incident (Wordsworth
1996 [1798]: 249)
For Wordsworth, the stimuli people were exposed to in the city were
cause for a continually increasing “thirst after outrageous stimulation”
(ibid.) and, concomitantly, torpor and indifference towards the plight of
others. As a consequence, the juxtaposition or even the valorisation of
country over city was inevitable. The familiar assumption, however, that
Romanticism is solely concerned with the natural world, concurrent with a
turn away from the city, has long been questioned (cf. Gurr and Raussert
2011: 7; Peer 2011: 1). Instead, Romantic poets like Wordsworth depict
cities as both “objects of fascination and terror” (Den Tandt 2014: 127),
offering ambiguous visions of the city that are related to a change in men-
tality and an increasing extent of self-reflection. As the reading of
Wordsworth’s London imaginary will show, the relation between individ-

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017

C. Löffler, Walking in the City,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-17743-0_8
294 7. Romantic Visions of the City

ual and society had undergone a significant shift towards the turn of the
century. Although the individual also plays a crucial role in the texts ana-
lysed so far, early and mid-eighteenth-century literature drafts a somewhat
normative image of society. Gay’s walker in Trivia, Ward’s and Brown’s
walkers, and Burney’s heroine Evelina can easily be assigned to a certain
class and rank and from that, the reader is able to draw conclusions re-
garding the urban experiences of upper middle class walkers, walkers of
less-privileged background or urban experiences of women. Moreover,
these early and mid-eighteenth century images of the city still offer differ-
ent modes of dealing with London’s urbanisation and adjusting to the new
eighteenth-century cityscape. Towards the end of the eighteenth century,
however, when the process of urbanisation was already well advanced and
London was on the verge of the Industrial Revolution, the individual’s
position in society, too, became subject to change. This mental and cultur-
al change manifested itself in self-reflections of the individual in literary
representations of urban experiences that were significantly stronger than
their early- and mid-eighteenth century predecessors. As I shall argue in
this chapter, Wordsworth’s “London” in Book VII of The Prelude is par-
ticularly symptomatic of this shift, particularly regarding the poem’s
strong sense of subjectivity and the self-reflexive quality of the London
walker’s urban experiences.
“Residence in London” is the seventh book of The Prelude256,
Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem that occupied him his entire life. As
an author associated with the English countryside, most specifically the
Lake District, “Residence in London” is one of the few poems by Words-

It should be noted that Wordsworth himself always referred to The Prelude as “The
Poem to Coleridge” or “Growth of a Poet’s Mind.” In 1850, after Wordsworth’s death,
it was published as The Prelude, because for all of Wordsworth’s life, the poem had
been conceived as a prelude to the never completed The Recluse.
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 295

worth with London at its centre, as Wordsworth would remain possessed

with the countryside his entire life. In “Upon Westminster Bridge,” one of
Wordsworth’s other London poems that I quoted earlier, London appears
at its least city-like moment in the morning when everything is still calm.
“Residence in London,” with its focus on urban spectacles, stands in stark
contrast to the romantic idyll envisioned in “Upon Westminster Bridge.”
In the poem, Wordsworth, in the form of an autobiographical narrator,
positions himself towards the city and provides a visionary experience of
London that can be approached from a psychogeographical angle.
It is generally accepted that there are three versions of The Prel-
ude: the 1799 version in two books, the 1805 version in 13 books and the
1850 version in 14 books. 257 None of the versions were published during
Wordsworth’s lifetime; it was only in 1850, three months after Words-
worth’s death, that his widow published the 14-book Prelude, but it re-
mains uncertain when Wordsworth had actually stopped his reworking
and editing of the 1805 version. In fact, Wordsworth revised The Prelude
a number of times, with the first corrections starting as early as 1806. As
an autobiographical poem, The Prelude traces Wordsworth’s life from his
childhood to his university years, his stay in London, his visits to France
and, finally, to his settling in the Lake District village of Grasmere in
1799. In that way, The Prelude can be understood as a circular journey
from home to exile and back to home (cf. Vanden Bossche and Haigwood
1999). The reading of Book VII of The Prelude must not therefore be con-
fused with the attempt to understand the poem in its entirety and certainly
neither provides a paradigmatic understanding of Wordsworth’s autobio-
graphical epic nor of his entire complex oeuvre. In the context of this
study, it is instead of particular interest to reveal the mode of urban repre-
It was not until 1926 that literary scholar and critic Ernest de Sélincourt found that there
was another, earlier version of The Prelude from 1805.
296 7. Romantic Visions of the City

sentation and to examine the poem’s psychogeographical dimensions. For

that purpose, the following chapter is devoted to looking into the role of
the autobiographical London walker, his urban experiences and the impact
of the city on him. In particular, I will delineate the city’s effects upon the
poet’s mind and his self-discovery as well as the texts’ re-imaginative
power, as the city is heavily rewritten in the three versions of The Prelude,
a development that corresponds with the growth of the poet’s mind.


Walking was central to Wordsworth’s life: As Solnit remarks, “walking

was both how he encountered the world and how he composed his poetry”
(Solnit 2002 [2001]: 104). Accordingly, for Wordsworth, walking was not
only a means of travelling, but a mode of being (cf. ibid.). This notion
resonates from The Prelude as well, where walking is inextricably linked
with experiencing and reacting to one’s geographical surroundings and
finding one’s identity through the walking experience. The Prelude as a
circular journey can be read as a long walk that leads the narrator through
different residences and countries only to guide him back home to the na-
ture of the Lake District. Similar to the primary texts already discussed,
the narrator as walker serves to lend the text continuity amidst various
detours and digressions and thus functions as a framework for The Prel-
ude. During his “Residence in London,” the autobiographical narrator can
be conceived as a psychogeographical London walker, whose walking
activity can be described as “lengthy, leisurely, and apparently aimless” so
that he seems to be “without a job or even an agenda beyond perambula-
tion” (Stelzig 2011: 187). Hence, he experiences the city while undertak-
ing “illimitable walk[s]” (Prelude 1805: 7. 159) through the urban scene,
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 297

experiences that change in the course of his residence in the city. In the
first half of Book VII, the walker cannot conceal his amazement at the
sight of the variety of city life:
Here, there and everywhere a weary throng,
The comers and the goers face to face,
Face after face; the string of dazzling wares,
Shop after shop, with symbols, blazoned names,
And all the tradesman’s honours overhead –
Here, fronts of houses, like a title-page,
With letters huge inscribed from top to toe;
Stationed above the door, like guardian saints
[…] a raree-show is here
With children gathered round; another street
Presents a company of dancing dogs,
Or dromedary with an antic pair
Of monkeys on his back, a minstrel band
Of Savoyards, or, single and alone,
An English ballad-singer (Prelude 1805: VII. 171-178; 190-196). 258
The catalogue of urban spectacles seems endless, an endless seriality that
corresponds with the walker’s illimitable perambulations. In that way, the
infinitude of the walking activity leads to “potentially unending inscrip-
tions” (Wolfreys 1998: 99) that have the power to write the city in various
Wandering London’s streets, the walker experiences a sensory over-
load he is hardly able to cope with. In the overture of Book VII, negative
impressions of London are still subtle – this will change as the book pro-
gresses; at first, the tone is rather ambivalent and only delicately fore-
shadows the elongated crescendo that culminates in the grotesque finale of
Bartholomew Fair. Accordingly, amidst the narrator’s initial awe, allu-
sions to the hell of Milton’s Paradise Lost, like the “thickening hubbub”
The edition quoted throughout is that of Jonathan Wordsworth (1995). If not otherwise
indicated, quotations are from the 1805 version of The Prelude.
298 7. Romantic Visions of the City

(Prelude: XII. 227) of London, are early forebodings of a visionary per-

ception of the city as infernal. 259 London, in the walker’s vision of it, is
slowly constructed as an infernal city, but before this vision reaches its
climax in the walker’s retreat to nature, it is constructed as ambivalent,
oscillating between startled admiration and utter condemnation. Although
the enchanted vision of London of the walker’s childhood self is quickly
dissolved, exclamations like “see […]/ The Italian, with his frame of im-
ages/ Upon his head” (228) or the description of theatre performances and
street entertainments show the walker’s awe at the variety of experiences
offered to him by the city. As opposed to the other texts I have analysed,
particularly Gay’s Trivia, the walker’s urban experiences in “Residence in
London” nevertheless lack a splendid and impressive character, focusing
less on the inspiring and didactic powers of these experiences than on
their overwhelming and destructive effect on the walker. Certainly, this is
also due to a temporal factor: at the time of Trivia’s publication, London
was characterised by an unprecedented process of urbanisation, while in
the late eighteenth century, London had already made significant progress
and was on the verge of the Industrial Revolution. Although these differ-
ent contexts have to be considered, the urban experiences in both texts –
ballad-singers, shops, street entertainments and a huge variety of sensory
impressions – remain similar, but are perceived differently. The beginning
of book VII, where paralysing awe still dominates the walker’s experience
of London, is, however, misleading, as wonder soon turns into shock. In-
deed, a quick first glance at Book VII is deceptive, as only a close reading
of the poem reveals the complex psychological impact of the city on the
walker that is hidden beneath the walker’s overwhelming and stunned first

The corresponding line in Paradise Lost reads: the “universal hubbub wilde” (Milton
2007 [1667]: 951).
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 299

impressions of the city. Accordingly, the confrontation with the visual and
aural dynamics of the urban scenery quickly becomes too much to bear
and the walker has to escape the noisy throng:
Meanwhile the roar continues, till at length,
Escaped as from an enemy, we turn
Abruptly into some sequestered nook
Still as a sheltered place when winds blow loud.
At leisure, thence, through tracts of thin resort
And sights and sounds that come at intervals,
We take our way (Prelude: VII. 184-190).
In quieter streets, the walker is able to walk calmly, as in nature, able to
take in sights and sounds that do not come in quick succession or all at
once, but one after the other. The walker’s involvement of the reader is
also remarkable, as the use of personal pronouns like “we”, indicates. In
that way, both walker and reader are deeply immersed in the cityscape.
That, however, also means that walker and reader are exposed to the urban
scenery, a feeling which is reinforced by the walker’s description of the
bustling core of the city as “enemy” (185). Being a walker situated at
street level thus also entails a certain vulnerability and exposure, from
which it is difficult to escape. But, as it will turn out, the walker has the
power to conquer the oppressive forces of the city by breaking away from
his position as walker at the end of Book VII.
Next to various catalogues of urban spectacles that the narrator lists
and that illustrate his confrontation with the city, the poem contains a few
visionary scenes that have a particularly intense effect on the walker. Such
visionary scenes occur during the strongest of psychogeographical mo-
ments, namely during powerful interactions between city and individual,
reciprocal actions that affect the walker and in turn affect how he per-
ceives the city. In “Residence in London”, these moments are character-
ised by the walker’s confrontation with urban scenes that awake certain
300 7. Romantic Visions of the City

memories in him and which he himself calls “spots of time” (Prelude: XI.
There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence, depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse, our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired (Prelude: XI. 257-264).
The “spots of time” are the activation of specific memories charged with
emotions "that when recalled serve to cushion painful experience" (Mason
2010: 91). Most critics agree that there are two key spots of time in The
Prelude: the walker’s encounter with the gibbet in Book XII and the wait
for his father’s horse in Book II. However, understood more loosely, there
are in fact many spots of time throughout the entire Prelude, from which
the narrator can draw imaginative strength. While throughout The Prel-
ude, the spots of time (most often connected to childhood experiences) for
the most part facilitate calm and peaceful contemplations, in Book VII,
these “visitings of imaginative power” (Prelude: VII. 252) work the other
way round and instead change the walker’s impression of London for the
worse. Seeing, for instance, the performance of The Maid of Buttermere in
Sadler’s Wells theatre, this view carries the walker back to his childhood
“with tender recollection of that time/ When first we saw the maiden”
(327-328).260 Thinking back on “those ingenuous moments of our youth”
(361), the narrator remembers that the maid of Buttermere, a local woman

Here, the walker refers to a play. Mary Robinson, known as the maid of Buttermere,
was an innkeeper’s daughter from Buttermere who was tricked into a bigamous mar-
riage and whom Wordsworth and Coleridge were extremely interested in. She inspired
public imagination; for instance the said play called Edward and Susan, or the Beauty
of Buttermere, performed in Sadler’s Wells in 1803.
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 301

from the Lake District, continues to “live in peace” (350), although her
“newborn infant” (355) has died and lies buried “beneath [a] little rock-
like pile” (357). With this recollection functioning as the trigger, the nar-
rator perceives a similar scene of a mother and her infant child against the
backdrop of his childhood memory:
‘Twas at a theatre
That I beheld this pair; the boy had been
The pride and pleasure of all lookers-on
In whatsoever place, but seemed in this
A sort of alien scattered from the clouds.
[…] upon a board
[…] had this child been placed,
And there he sat, environed with a ring
Of chance spectators, chiefly dissolute men
And shameless women…
While oaths, indecent speech, and ribaldry
Were rife about him as are songs of birds
In springtime after showers (Prelude: VII. 374-391).
What is important in this visionary experience is a valorisation of the
country over the city through drawing attention to the corruptive forces of
London. While the spot of time signifies that the maid’s child’s innocence
is preserved by death and that it rests peacefully alongside his living
mother in the countryside, the exposed child in the theatre is perceived as
an emblem of the “corruption of innocence in or by the city” (Stelzig
2011: 189).261 The spot of time, therefore, does not serve to cushion the
disgraceful sight of the small child amidst drunks and prostitutes, but in-
stead reinforces it. This scene is also a pivotal point in the poem: the spot
of time and the visionary experience of the city connected to it make the

Corruption in or by the city is a theme that recurs time and again in Book VII, for ex-
ample in the passages about the theatricality of court and church that are described as
”specimens of the sophisticated corruption of urban culture“ (Stelzig 2011: 191).
302 7. Romantic Visions of the City

narrator fully aware of the vice and corruption of London. Following the
passage, lines and terms like “I shuddered” (421), “distress of mind”
(427), “sadness” (429), “sorrow” (434) or “painful” (435) point to a shift
from admiration of the city towards condemnation of the city. From that
moment on, the city begins to execute its oppressive power over the narra-
tor, the phenomenon of which is discussed further on. Connecting the
spots of time mechanism to walking, the psychogeographical dimension
lies in the subjective, visionary perception of the city via the walker’s
memories on the one hand and via the city’s spectacles and their psycho-
logical impact on the walker on the other hand. The reciprocity between
city and walker, activated by the walker’s position in the midst of the
“overflowing streets” (594) and the urban hubbub, creates a London imag-
inary that is characterised by the walker’s deep connection with nature
and the powerful impact of the spots of time that trigger the shift from
admiration to condemnation of the city.
Not only restless physical, but also mental travelling, accompa-
nied by ontological endeavours, dominated Wordsworth’s entire life. Only
in nature Wordsworth found himself able to glimpse the typically Words-
worthian transcendental beyond the material, as only there “did [he] drink
the visionary power” (Prelude: II.330) that animated his imagination.
London, by contrast, “is one of Wordsworth’s images of deceptive ‘outer’
life which distracts him in his spiritual journey” (Lindenberger 1966
[1963]: 233). The way in which London is perceived in Book VII of The
Prelude is hence affected by Wordsworth’s (spiritual) experiences of na-
ture. Similar to H.F., who, as an eyewitness of the city’s urbanisation and
transformation, sees London against the backdrop of urban change,
Wordsworth’s London is constructed against the backdrop of the poet’s
relationship with nature. “Residence in London” therefore sets up a con-
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 303

trast between “pastoral virtue and urban vice” (ibid. 240), and according-
ly, the autobiographical narrator of the poem does not enter the city un-
prejudiced, but is already strongly affected by a determined set of expecta-
Loose and at full command, to London first
I turned, if not in calmness, nevertheless
In no disturbance of excessive hope –
At ease from all ambition personal,
Frugal as there was need, and though self-willed,
Yet temperate and reserved, and wholly free
From dangerous passions. ‘Twas at least two years
Before this season when I first beheld
That mighty place, a transient visitant (Prelude: VII. 66-74).262
Remarkably, this first impression of London is even more intensified in a
later correction, where Wordsworth describes the feeling of shock upon
his arrival:
[…] Three years had flown
Since I had felt in heart and soul the shock
Of the huge town’s first presence (Prelude 1850: VII. 75-77)
Although, as I have argued earlier, there is already a subtle tendency to-
wards a condemnation of the city at the beginning of Book VII, in the first
half of the poem, the narrator is still relatively sparing with negative des-
ignations. First of all, he has to cope with the personal development and
re-adjustment of his own idea/vision of London, which, upon arriving,
shatters the illusions of his earlier self:
There was a time when watsoe’er is feigned
Of airy palaces and gardens built
[…] fell short, far short,
Of that which I in simpleness believed

“Residence in London” is most likely inspired by Wordsworth’s stay in London from
January until May 1791. The first time he went to London that he alludes to in lines 65-
66 was probably in 1788. Also compare Barker (2005), Davies (1980), Gill (2004).
304 7. Romantic Visions of the City

And thought of London – […]

[…] Marvellous things
My fancy had shaped forth, of sights and shows,
Processions, equipages, lords and dukes
The King, and the King’s palace […]
The river proudly bridged, the giddy top
And whispering Gallery of St Paul’s, the tombs
Of Westminster, the Giants of Guildhall,
Bedlam and the two figures at its gates,
Streets without end and churches numberless,
Statues with flowery gardens in vast squares (Prelude: VII. 81-90;
108-111; 129-134)
Positioning the narrator’s first eye-witness impression of London immedi-
ately before his earlier self’s mental image of the city, the poet establishes
two double perspectives from which London is experienced. The narrator
looks back on his childhood self that, in a state of innocence, fantasises
about a great and enchanted city. Recalling his childhood self marks the
development of the autobiographical narrator’s subjective consciousness
(cf. Meyer 1999: 298) and the growth of his mind from his childhood to
the present perspective of the 1805 Prelude. On a second level, “the dia-
chronic view of [the narrator’s] present self and past self” (Meyer 2003)
results in the different revised versions of The Prelude so that with each
revision, the perspective is expanded. In the 1850 version, for instance,
the contrast between country and city appears significantly stronger, an
effect induced by additional innocent imaginative descriptions of London
as “that new region” (Prelude 1850: VII. 97), as “Fairy-land” (98) full of
“broad-day wonders” (128). The diachronic view generated by the fre-
quent shift of perspectives results in changes and modifications of the au-
tobiographical narrator’s vision of London over the years. Although the
city in Book VII remains fixed in time and space, as the poem in all ver-
sions most likely covers Wordsworth’s stay in the city in 1791, the city’s
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 305

psychological impact on the narrator changes. Accordingly, the innocent

and enchanted vision of London from when he was a boy has only be-
come something the narrator recalls as a “vivid pleasure of [his] youth”
(151) and a “frequent daydream for [his] riper mind” (153). The narrator’s
changing psychological reactions to the city manifest themselves in what
is regarded as a key revision in the 1850 version that gets to the heart of
the narrator’s relationship with the city. In this version, the childhood vi-
sion of London is immediately followed by an overpowering first impres-
sion of London as the narrator arrives:
Rise up, thou monstrous ant-hill on the plain
Of a too busy world! […] (Prelude 1850: VII. 149-150).
In this revision, London appears as a monster forthwith, setting the tone
for an altogether more oppressive vision of the city than in the 1805 ver-
sion. Wordsworth’s relationship to nature is probably the key to under-
standing the poem’s alteration towards a more cruel depiction of the city.
Settling in Grasmere at the turn of the century, Wordsworth’s decision in
favour of the countryside is connected to a quest for solitude and calmness
that could only be accomplished in nature (cf. Williams 1996: 3). As a
result, the valorisation of country over city becomes continuously more
intense over the course of Wordsworth’s life as he progressively sees the
city with his country experience behind him. As Raymond Williams ex-
plains, Wordsworth’s associations with the city became more and more
appalling the longer he lived in the Lake District:
Wordsworth saw strangeness, a loss of connection […] a failure of
identity in the crowd of others which worked back to a loss of identity
in the self, and then, in these ways, a loss of society itself, its over-
coming and replacement by a procession of images: the 'dance of col-
ours, lights and forms', 'face after face' and there are no other laws
(Williams 1973: 150).
306 7. Romantic Visions of the City

Correspondingly, in the last revision, the narrator expresses his shock that
in London, “life and labour seem but one” (The Prelude 1850: VII. 71).
Revising The Prelude repeatedly, Wordsworth recurrently adjusts the im-
pressions of his autobiographical narrator so that London is continuously
reimagined according to the personal development of the poet himself or,
in Wordsworth’s own words, the growth of his mind. As a result, Book
VII is characterised by a complex multi-layered temporal dimension, a
merging of past, present and future that functions as a means to restore his
self by re-writing the past (cf. Meyer 1999: 302).
Indeed, Wordsworth’s life-long search for identity echoes through
“Residence in London” as well as through the entire Prelude. The self is
thereby understood through various relationships that form the scaffold of
The Prelude (cf. Mason 2010: 89), such as the relationship to “nature, the
imagination, memory and political consciousness” (ibid.) – or to the city.
The enduring desire to revise The Prelude and the refusal to make the
work available to a public readership speak for themselves. For Words-
the meaning of selfhood or identity [could] never be pinned down or
controlled; it [was] always subject to endlessly shifting contexts with-
in which it merely [found] itself inserted as a figure open to interpreta-
tion (Wolfreys 1998: 127).
Hence, Wordsworth did not understand life as systematic or coherent,
finding it impossible to present life as a stable entity. While, ultimately, it
is through nature that Wordsworth defines himself, the city obstructs this
endeavour and obscures the identities of others. As a result, London gen-
erates a general anxiety over identity that is twofold and that can be traced
on the level of the autobiographical narrator’s ontological crisis, as well as
on the level of the narrator’s social encounters. London appears as disor-
derly and full of chaos, a place where the narrator is “paralysed by the
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 307

rapid rhythm of life […] as well as the intense and unexpected sensory
stimulation of discontinuous and forever changing images and impres-
sions” (Mason 2010: 91). The rapidity of the city obstructs the narrator’s
interpretation of his experiences and instead leaves him bewildered and
unable to cope with the overload:
[…] the quick dance
Of colours, lights, and forms; the Babel din;
The endless stream of men, and moving things;
The wealth, the bustle and the eagerness,
The glittering chariots with their pampered steeds,
Stalls, barrows, porters; midway in the street
The scavenger, who begs with hat in hand;
The labouring hackney-coaches, the rash speed
Of coaches travelling far whirled on with horn
Loud blowing, and the sturdy drayman’s team
Ascending from some alley of the Thames
And striking right across the crowded Strand (Prelude: VII. 156-169).
The impressions continue and follow in quick succession, thereby recreat-
ing the immense tempo of the city also on a textual level. The city be-
comes a text which the narrator cannot read, and the attempts to control
London’s “excessive energy” (Wolfreys 1998: 125) fail and only result in
the narrator’s exhaustion. As a consequence, the narrator can only come to
the conclusion that the city “ha[s] no law, no meaning, and no end” (Prel-
ude: 704) and that the undefinable, changing, and arbitrary character of
the city leads to “blank confusion” (695) and, ultimately, to the “oppres-
sion” (705) of identity.
A crucial motor for the autobiographical narrator’s self-definition
is his imaginative power. In London, however, he perceives this power as
dormant, and as suppressed by the city. Amidst the spectacles and sensory
overload, the imagination is unable to function and the narrator declares:
“…I feel the imaginative power/ languish within me” (Prelude: 498-499).
308 7. Romantic Visions of the City

For the narrator, this means he has to capitulate and submit his identity to
the city, that is, the external dimension of the urban scene, which, with its
uncontrollable energies, forces itself on the subject and provokes the
“spots of time” to cause the opposite of the intended effect. However, as I
discuss further on, the narrator’s dormant imagination is eventually rea-
wakened by his recollection of his pastoral identity, as the narrator’s true
self can be stirred only by sights and experiences of nature (cf. Linden-
berger 1966 [1963]: 233 f.). This exactly is also the problematic aspect of
the autobiographical narrator’s attitude to the city: As I noted before, the
narrator does not enter the city unbiased and, as a consequence, from the
outset his imagination is inhibited by objects and impressions that arouse
his distaste (cf. ibid. 242). He loathes the multi-layered dissonance of
sounds, sights and other sensory impressions, the primitive amusements
and the haste and chaos of the city. And yet, things that emotionally affect
the narrator, such as an encounter with a blind beggar, leave powerful im-
pressions and can indeed serve as catalysts for his imagination. Behind
this mechanism of only being receptive to impressions that conform to
personal preference can be uncovered a larger Romantic notion of the
city: The city’s psychological effects on the individual, namely the feeling
of dislocation, loss of identity or the feeling of alienation and isolation
serve to construct the individual’s identity in relation to the city. In Book
VII, the city’s positive aspects are marginalised and as a result, the auto-
biographical narrator artificially constructs himself as Other in the city
and therewith as a Romantic ideal that can only function in the calm and
pacifying realms of nature (cf. Caeners 2013: 58 f.). This contrast between
city and country is made even stronger by the position of Book VII within
The Prelude, as it is framed by “Cambridge and the Alps” (Book VI) and
“Love of Nature” (Book VIII).
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 309

The de-construction of the narrator’s identity in the city is accom-

panied by a perceived anonymity and theatricality of the crowd:
How often in the overflowing streets
Have I gone forwards with the crowd, and said
Unto myself ‘The face of everyone
That passes by me is a mystery!’
Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed
By thoughts of what and whither, when and how (Prelude: VII. 594-
The autobiographical narrator is struck by the anonymity and the lack of
particularity of the London crowd. Questions about the identity and indi-
vidual life stories of passers-by remain unanswered and leave the narra-
tor’s desire to know more and thus to gain control unfulfilled. He is baf-
fled by the fact “how men live[…]/ Even next-door neighbours (as we
say) yet still/ Strangers, and knowing not each other’s names” (118-120).
With his country experience behind him, the narrator has a different un-
derstanding of the concept of neighbourly relationships and is once more
in fear of losing his identity amidst the city-inherent anonymity. In the
crowd, the narrator is swallowed up and just like he is unable to identify
individuals among the “swarm” (698) and “undistinguishable world”
(699), he must realise that he himself becomes only a fleeting face in the
masses, too. In order to cope with urban anonymity, the autobiographical
narrator uses the analogy of the theatre and hence understands the crowd
as actors on an urban stage. Exclaiming “Things that are, are not” (643),
he alludes to fictions of identity that are not only subject to change, but
refuse to be decoded. In that regard, “Residence in London” anticipates
what Mumford later declared as a “great function of the city,” namely to
provide “a stage upon which the drama of social life may be enacted with
the actors taking their turns as spectators and the spectators as actors”
(Mumford 1961: 173). The city, for the narrator, becomes a site of per-
310 7. Romantic Visions of the City

formance or, in the narrator’s words, “public shows” (The Prelude: VII.
543). Urban actors, as opposed to professional actors, however, do not
reveal their identity at the end of the play, in that way reinforcing their
anonymity even more. In the poem’s theatrical city, then, “how are we to
recognise the difference between the Maid of Buttermere and a Sadler’s
Wells prostitute, between a romantic woman and a painted theatrical
whore?” (Jacobus 1993: 117). The city thus becomes a space of theatrical-
ity in which the boundaries between illusion and reality as well as specta-
cle and spectator crumble (also see Meyer 2003). As a consequence, the
narrator cannot avoid becoming part of the spectacle, while all the while
he remains a spectator himself. This theatricality of the city culminates in
two much-discussed key scenes of Book VII which are now looked at
more closely: the narrator’s encounter with a blind beggar and the specta-
cle of Bartholomew Fair.
The narrator’s struggle for identity and his concomitant anxiety
over its loss amidst the urban masses finds temporary relief when his eyes
fall upon a blind beggar:
And once, far travelled in such mood, beyond
The reach of common indications, lost
Amid the moving pageant, ‘twas my chance
Abruptly to be smitten with the view
Of a blind beggar, who, with upright face,
Stood propped against a wall, upon his chest
Wearing a written paper to explain
The story of the man and who he was (Prelude: VII. 607-614).
Sitting against a wall, with “fixéd face and sightless eyes” (621), the beg-
gar turns into an urban scene that has a significant effect on the narrator,
who “abruptly” halts to take in the scene. Merely a few lines before the
encounter, the narrator had been overwhelmed by the overflowing streets
and the massive crowds passing him by, leaving him as much a spectator
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 311

as a subject to the gaze of others and thus a spectacle himself. The city has
left the narrator “in such mood” (607), so that his “mind did at this specta-
cle turn round/ As with the might of waters” (615-617). After the brutally
rapid impressions and sensations, the encounter appears like a tremen-
dously decelerated, psychogeographical experience that triggers deep con-
templations of anonymity and identity, and finally seems to provide an
answer to the narrator’s urgent questions of “what and whither, when and
how” (599). The beggar functions as a contemporary relief from the city’s
oppressive power, as a “mental tergiversation” (Langan 1995: 182) which
inspires the walker’s imagination. For the first time, the walker feels a
release from being stared at, as the beggar’s blindness invites the walker’s
gaze to linger on him without being pressured to hastily walk on. The sign
around the beggar’s neck tells his life story, but due to his blindness, the
beggar has to rely on others to read and write the sign, so that in fact, the
beggar becomes an emblem of an actor on the urban stage (cf. Benis 2000:
203–04). The beggar stages his demise while no one can be sure whether
the role he plays complies with reality or illusion, ultimately resulting in
the unanswerability of the narrator’s questions. In that way, the beggar as
self-stager and performer becomes “an emblem of the utmost that we
know/ Both of ourselves and of the universe” (618-619), namely nothing.
The narrator finds his mirror-image in the blind beggar, as the site of him
again raises the questions of self-definition and identity that perpetually
occupy the narrator’s mind. Understanding the beggar as a role in a large
urban play, the narrator yet again realises that identity and self-definition
are unstable, steadily changing constructs. What is more, the beggar inten-
sifies the sense of dislocation and alienation within the narrator, because
the blind beggar has no control over the spectator’s response. He is a
symbol for urban anonymity, an immutable and “unmoving” (620) figure
of isolation and his inability to see obstructs reciprocity so that any chance
312 7. Romantic Visions of the City

at communication fails and he remains oblivious to the responses of pass-

ers-by. Seeing the beggar, the narrator becomes only aware of his double
presence of spectator and spectacle, as he himself is neither free of being
observed nor of observing others. The sight of the beggar stirs up the nar-
rator’s mind and from this moment on, he projects his destructive percep-
tion of the city back onto the city as such, so that the encounter with the
beggar eventually induces the grand finale of Book VII.
The description of Bartholomew Fair, regarded as “one of the
most exciting representations of the energy of urban life in English litera-
ture” (Johnston 1998: 247) at the end of Book VII deals with the city’s
theatricality in a different way. The narrator perceives the Fair as
[…] a hell
For eyes and ears, what anarchy and din
Barbarian and infernal – ‘tis a dream
Monstrous in colour, motion, shape, sight, sound!
Below, the open space, through every nook
Of the wide area, twinkles, is alive
With heads; the midway region and above
Is thronged with staring pictures and huge scrolls,
Dumb proclamations of the prodigies,
And chattering monkeys dangling from their poles
And children whirling in their roundabouts;
All freaks of natures, all Promethean thoughts
Of man – his dullness, madness, and their feats –
All jumbled up together to make up
This parliament of monsters. Tents and booths
Meanwhile, as if the whole were one vast mill,
Are vomiting, receiving, on all sides,
Men, women, three-years’ children, babes in arms (Prelude: VII. 659-

In Bartholomew Fair (1614), Ben Jonson first explored Bartholomew Fair as a setting
for a comedy and depicted the vividness of the fair, its visitors from a broad range of
social classes, and the spectacles to be enjoyed at the fair. The prologue to the play in-
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 313

Listing the spectacles offered during the fair in a total number of 136 lines
(558-694), the autobiographical narrator expresses his shock at the sight
of this urban spectacle. The description of the fair creates an oppressive
urban scene which the narrator is neither able to relate to nor able to cope
with. He is overwhelmed by the sensory overload presented to him, the
cacophony of “chattering” (667), “screaming” (672), “rattles” (674) and
“thumps” (ibid.), the visual chaos of “monkeys” (667), “children whirl-
ing” (668), “the silver-collared negro” (676), “the stone-eater, the man
that swallows fire,/ Giants, ventriloquists” (682-683), and countless other
“freaks of nature” (688) which together form a “parliament of monsters”
(691). For the narrator, the fair thus becomes a model of the city itself.
Interestingly, however, although the narrator describes the Fair as destruc-
tive of “the whole creative powers of man” (Prelude 1805: VII. 654), the
verbal energy and power of the scene belie this thesis (cf. Johnston 1998:
262). Even in witnessing this monstrous spectacle, the narrator’s vision of
the city remains slightly ambiguous, even though the shift towards con-
demnation of the city is almost completed by now. It reaches its climax
when the grotesque and carnivalesque urban spectacle poses such a threat
to the narrator that he withdraws from it and breaks away from the crowd
of the Fair which he refuses to become a part of. In fact, the shift of per-
spective is quite interesting in this scene: Where he was a walker before,
immersed in the crowd, the narrator, confronted with the Fair, seeks a

troduces the hubbub and, although written some 200 years prior to The Prelude, the fair
already is synonymous with crowds, noise, spectacles, chaos and disorder:
Your Majesty is welcome to a Fair;
Such Place, such Men, such Language, and such Ware,
You must expect: with these, the zealous noise
Of your Lands Faction, scandaliz'd at Toys,
As Babies, Hobby-horses, Puppet-plays,
And such like rage, whereof the petulant ways
Your self have known, and have bin vex’t with long (Jonson 1964 [1614] ).
314 7. Romantic Visions of the City

slightly elevated position “above the press and danger of the crowd,/ Upon
some showman’s platform” (656-657). In this streak of “self-protective
notion” (England 1990: 613), the narrator literally and figuratively es-
capes from the invasive power of the city by changing his position from
street-level walker to slightly elevated voyeur. This spatial relocation cor-
responds with a shift in the narrator’s relation to the city: While through-
out the poem, the narrator laments the oppressive force of the city over his
imagination, it is in fact the most monstrous and atrocious spectacle of the
Fair that eventually evokes his triumphant victory over the city. The city,
as I have noted earlier, imposes itself upon the narrator in almost every
part of the poem, leaving hardly any room for his existential imagination.
Hence, the narrator surrenders to the urban scene, making it “possible for
the external world to gain almost complete primacy” (England 1990: 604).
Ultimately, however, the horrific Fair is not strong enough to defeat “the
creative power of the poet’s mind” (ibid.) and the narrator eventually
overcomes the bonds of the city. Again, this illustrates the ambiguous re-
lation of the narrator towards the city that underlies “Residence in Lon-
don.” What seems to be the most destructive and oppressive experience of
the city turns out to be the spectacle that eventually releases the narrator
from the city’s forces. It is hence not astonishing that nature, as the city’s
counterpart, is the crucial factor in the narrator’s triumph, as he concludes
“Residence in London” as follows:
This did I feel in that vast receptacle.
The spirit of nature was upon me here;
The soul of beauty and enduring life
Was present as a habit, and diffused –
Through meagre lines and colours, and the press
Of self-destroying, transitory things –
Composure and ennobling harmony (Prelude: VII. 734-740).
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 315

These final lines of Book VII conjure up the artificially constructed con-
trast between city and country, as well as between city dweller and the
Romantic Other. Mentally returning to nature, the narrator is able to con-
struct himself as spectator of the Fair, rather than as part of the spectacle
and thus shields himself from the destructive power of the city. Nature,
eventually, brings “to his stay in the metropolis a mindset that can safe-
guard him” and that enables him to “maintain his cognitive and psychic
integrity in the city even in the face of its theatrical monstrosities” (Stelzig
2011: 193).264 This grand finale of the narrator’s experience of urban spec-
tacles is strategically framed: “Residence in London” ends with the gro-
tesque climax of Bartholomew Fair, while the narrator’s victory of the city
via nature is immediately demonstrated further by the description of a
country fair, a pastoral paradise, right at the beginning of Book VIII. It
thus appears that the relationship between mind as the inner world and the
city as the outer world engage the narrator’s thoughts, not only in “Resi-
dence in London” but throughout the entire Prelude. This relationship of
the external and the internal is what occupies Wordsworth’s walker most
and is thus what constitutes the strong sense of subjectivity and self-
reflection inherent in Romantic notions of the city. The crucial factor in
this respect is the walker’s self-awareness and his ability to actively re-
flect on the psychological effects of the city on him, and this is also what
distinguishes Wordsworth’s Romantic walker from the other walkers I
have so far discussed. While the urban experiences of the walkers who
explore early- and mid-eighteenth century London, too, are influenced by
both the city and the walkers’ states of mind, the process of self-reflection

London, as it is perceived in Book VII of The Prelude, does not therefore consistently
obstruct the narrator’s imagination, as many critics – and the narrator himself – have
argued. Hartman, for instance, describes a “one-way-street” movement between the
city and the walker (Hartman 1965: 239).
316 7. Romantic Visions of the City

and self-awareness remains virtually absent. The autobiographical walker

in Wordsworth’s “London,” however, is fully aware of the fact that his
vision of London depends as much on his memories and his state of mind
as on the city itself. This self-reflexive quality also evokes associations
with the Romantic concept of the sublime that became an important con-
cept in Romantic discussions and reflections about aesthetic ideals. Alt-
hough I shall not enter into a discussion of the sublime here, I would like
to point towards the intersection of the notion of the sublime and psycho-
geography. For Wordsworth, the sublime signified the emotional and im-
aginative powers of nature upon the individual that could transcend ra-
tional thought. In that way, impressions of the exterior, outer world were
understood as catalysts for the imagination so that the mind was affected
by scene (cf. England 1990: 607), regardless of whether it was embraced
by nature or overwhelmed through the shock of violence or grotesque ur-
ban spectacles. As Wordsworth wrote in “Tintern Abbey,” the mind “half-
create[s]/ what it perceives” (Wordsworth 1996 [1798]: 117), two lines
that point not only to the increasing importance of self-reflective dimen-
sions in literature of Romanticism, but also towards the nexus between
mind and geographical surroundings which is at the heart of psychogeog-
raphy. Literature from the end of the eighteenth century thus already
showed symptoms of a change in mentality. My reading of Wordsworth’s
“London” in particular certifies that the psychological impacts of the city
in representations of London experiences gradually dissolved towards the
end of the eighteenth century. This transition also plays a crucial role re-
garding the way in which late-eighteenth-century and early Romantic lit-
erary psychogeography need to be understood. Just as cultural history is
subject to change, literary psychogeography, too, is exposed to continuity
William Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” (1805) 317

and change and therefore needs readjustment when looked at beyond the
eighteenth century.
Before I conclude the reading of Wordsworth’s London in Book
VII of The Prelude, I briefly want to return to the aspect of reimagining
the city. As I have noted above, the different versions of The Prelude and
the time of publication indicate that Wordsworth was never quite satisfied
with The Prelude. On the contrary, it might have been a way of drawing
attention to the fact that life – defined by experiences, impressions or the
search for identity – can never be pinpointed or broken down to just a
couple of (arbitrarily) selected moments. In “Residence in London,” the
city is always subject to change, but the crucial aspect here is that the
change is not brought about by change of the cityscape, its spatial layout,
number of inhabitants, urban expansion, and so on. It is constantly chang-
ing because the perceiving subject, the autobiographical narrator, is con-
tinuously subject to change himself. This change can be traced on two
levels, namely within the poem itself and within the larger context of the
poem’s revision. As I have argued, at the beginning of Book VII, awe and
wonder still dominate the walker’s reaction to the city, although subtle
hints point towards an unavoidable collapse of the walker’s enchanted
first impressions. But the resulting development within the poem, the shift
from admiration to condemnation is somewhat necessary: In
finally denouncing and dismissing the city, the poet allows the moral-
ist in him to overwhelm the admiring spectator – but that wide-eyed
spectator in turn has been the precursor and indeed the precondition
for the moralist and his heavy artillery (Stelzig 2011: 187).
Rather paradigmatically, the walker must first spectate in order to ulti-
mately dismiss the city and decide in favour of the country. Secondly, the
re-imaginative dimension of “Residence in London” can be found on the
level of the autobiographical narrator who is on a life-long quest for iden-
318 7. Romantic Visions of the City

tity and self-definition, and thus the way he perceives the city is shaped by
his own development. Consequently, in Book VII, the narrator “does not
delineate London as it was but through present recollection and day-
dreams of his past experiences” (Meyer 2003). The spots of time and
memories of his past are an important catalyst for the narrator’s re-
imaginative power, but the present at which he writes each version of The
Prelude, namely the 1799, 1805 or 1850 versions, is a different one in
every version. Present impressions, merged with memories and past im-
pressions, stir up the inner world of the autobiographical narrator. In that
way, Book VII retraces the way in which external stimulations in the form
of urban spectacles can trigger internal reflections and thus reveals the
reciprocity between the city and the growth of a poet’s mind. 265

Certainly, in this respect, Wordsworth’s nature poetry could also be approached from a
psychogeographical angle, but with its focus on urban experiences, the present study
will refrain from doing so.
Conclusion: How Does the World Enter the Text?
“How different a place London is to different people!” Samuel Johnson’s
observation marked the starting point for this study and its reflections on
the real, the fictional and the imaginary dimensions of literary London. In
order to uncover these dimensions, I explored psychogeographical traces
in a selection of eighteenth-century texts that deal with everyday life in
London and that reflect a contemporary desire to understand, absorb and
observe the variety of urban experiences available in London. Because the
texts prioritise individual, subjective and dynamic impressions and per-
ceptions of London over static, map-like representations of the city, the
text-inherent subjectivity and the interplay of mind and space in relation
to urban experiences proved to be the ideal starting point for a psychogeo-
graphical approach to literary London. By blending fact with fiction or, in
other words, by merging the geographical and the psychological dimen-
sions of urban experiences, each text created its own vision of London
which was explored and assessed in a number of analytical chapters in
Part II.
One of the key questions pursued has been that of understanding
and grasping the interplay of reality and literary representations of that
reality as well as the subjectivity inherent in such literary representations.
With a psychogeographical approach, I thus specifically sought to explore
the social, cultural, physical and psychological dimensions of individuals’
urban experiences in an urban surrounding that challenged the habitual
ways of everyday life. Because research conducted on urban space and
experiences of the latter has not been scarce in recent years, a new meth-
odology that combined the study of literary cities with psychogeography
was developed in order to approach literary representations of urban expe-
riences. To develop such an approach, it was therefore necessary first to

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017

C. Löffler, Walking in the City,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-17743-0_9
320 Conclusion: How Does the World Enter the Text?

define psychogeography in general and to elucidate the literary dimension

of psychogeography in particular, as well as to link these findings to cur-
rent research. In order to point out the potential of a psychogeographical
approach, Part II has provided close readings of literary representations of
urban experiences using the methodology developed in Part I. The read-
ings, based on characteristic topical and formal elements of literary psy-
chogeography, have shown that subjectivity emerges from the peripatetic
figure of the London walker and his mood, his social and cultural back-
ground and his general expectations of the city as much as it emerges
from his urban surroundings and the latter’s effects on him. From these
readings, it has not only become evident that perceptions of London that
are both real and imagined attest to the assumption that subjectivity inher-
ent in these perceptions results from a complex interplay between the real,
the fictional and the imaginary, but also that by applying a psychogeo-
graphical methodology, this interplay can be systematically traced.
Although the term psychogeography was first used in connection
with an urban practice that, in the 1950s, promoted individual explorations
of cities in support of the return to a critical and reflective urban aware-
ness, the idea of exploring urban spaces in relation to psychological and
individual dimensions has a much longer tradition. I have thus challenged
the notion that psychogeography can only be understood as a practice and
has shown that psychogeography has a cross-disciplinary potential that
allows for grasping the real and imagined dimensions of space in various
disciplines, such as sociology, architecture, arts, media or, as in the focus
of this study, literature. As for the study of the imaginary dimensions of
urban experiences, literary texts are a particularly apt medium for explor-
ing this dimension, as the process of writing always automatically implies
a process of subjectivisation and the emergence of a fictional reality. The
Conclusion: How Does the World Enter the Text? 321

question thus arises of why the imaginary dimensions of urban space seem
to be more interesting than objective, static and map-like representations
of the city. The key to understanding this fascination with the imaginary is
the historical angle provided in this study. While we could easily explore
contemporary London psychogeographically (as many people indeed do),
we get access to a past London via literary representations of the latter.
Although historical maps, surveys or records can provide us with glimpses
of bygone days, they fail to lay open everyday life in its various aspects.
Accounts of lived space, to use Lefebvre’s term, is what really gives us an
idea and impressions of what life was like at a given time. An investiga-
tion of literary psychogeography in the specific historical context of eight-
eenth-century London, therefore, gives readers access not only to every-
day life in general but also to the way in which different individuals expe-
rienced that life in particular. Thus, only by having access to the lived di-
mension of eighteenth-century London can we truly understand Samuel
Johnson’s observation on the diversity of London experiences.
Indeed, the analyses in Part II attest to the conjuncture that eight-
eenth-century London appears very differently in each text. Although the
extra-textual reality remains similar for each text, the fictional reality cre-
ated via the London walker and his subjective experiences of the city
marks London as a place of multiple visions. The texts discussed are
clearly anchored in the extra-textual reality of eighteenth-century London,
a referentiality that is established in various ways, such as via topograph-
ical references to buildings, streets or landscape specifics, via observa-
tions of cultural specifics like public walks, pleasure gardens, coffee
houses and via topical events like Bartholomew Fair. As a consequence,
St. Paul’s Cathedral, Covent Garden, the Monument, the Royal Exchange,
Bedlam, Vauxhall and Ranelagh Gardens, St James’s Park and many other
London landmarks make regular appearances in the texts. In that way,
322 Conclusion: How Does the World Enter the Text?

each text remains a subjectivised version of a London that also existed in

reality and that readers were able to relate to. As a result, the London en-
visioned in the texts rests on its own intra-textual reality that relies on an
extra-textual reality on the one hand and subjective, fictionalised impres-
sions of that reality on the other. In that way, the texts are, to go back to
Mahler’s distinction, Stadttexte (texts about a city) and Textstädte (literary
cities) at the same time. The distinction between the two thus needs to be
challenged, as the texts of this study are not either/or, but both. Hence, the
real dimensions of a literary city, established through topographical refer-
ences, and the fictional dimensions of a literary city, established through
subjective and fictionalised descriptions and experiences of the city, to-
gether form an imaginary construct that relies as much on the world out-
side the text as on the world inside the text.
I have shown that the literary dimension of psychogeography
needs to be distinguished from the practice of psychogeography: Whereas
psychogeography as a practice implies an actual activity and hence is uni-
dimensional, literary psychogeography in fact has a threefold dimension.
Firstly, the London walker plays a significant role in creating the London
imaginary: in his experiences, triggered by the activity of walking, the
geographical and the psychological, emotional dimensions of his urban
explorations are merged. Walking is thereby used as much as a means of
perspective-taking as a means of placing an agency in the midst of the
urban landscape, creating immediacy, proximity and instantaneousness.
Thus, the practice of psychogeography is always also a part of literary
psychogeography, because the London walker as a fictional character in
the text practices psychogeographical explorations of the city and hence
functions as agency through which these explorations are conducted. The
subjectivity emerging from the London walker’s movement through and
Conclusion: How Does the World Enter the Text? 323

experiences of the city, however, does not only emerge from the street-
level perspective he occupies in the texts. Instead, subjectivity also arises
from the figure of the author. The authors occasionally weave autobio-
graphical elements into their texts and their fictional walker’s urban expe-
riences and indeed, authorial voice can be detected in every text analysed
in Part II. Whether the writings of Ward and Brown, Thelwall’s political
activism, Defoe’s urban criticism, the male perspective on women walkers
or Wordsworth’s ontological endeavours, the London walkers always also
need to be understood as constructs whose movements through and expe-
riences of the city have been constructed via the mode of writing and thus
via the author. Literary psychogeography, as product of a fictionalising act
(cf. Iser 1996: 2) hence creates a double fiction, a two-fold subjectivity
that relates to the author on the one hand and to the fictional walker on the
other and that is ultimately unified in the London walker and his psycho-
geographical explorations of the city. To this double fiction is added a
third dimension that involves the reader of literary psychogeography. In
the case of this study, the texts selected for analysis offer the readers vari-
ous modes of access to and different urban imaginaries of eighteenth-
century London. During the reading process, the London walker’s psy-
chogeographical explorations are transferred onto the reader as well, so
that the literary world and the world of the reader intersect.266 In that way,
London becomes psychogeographical for the reader, too, who does not
only have access to someone else’s subjective explorations of the city but
whose own urban explorations are potentially shaped by reading others’
accounts of the same endeavour. Readers of Brown’s and Ward’s satirical
Grub Street writings, for instance, may have seen the city with different
eyes on their next urban stroll; or, women readers may have been remind-

Compare Ricoeur’s mimesis3 (cf. Ricoeur 1984: 53).
324 Conclusion: How Does the World Enter the Text?

ed of Evelina’s dangerous experiences in the pleasure garden during their

next visit to Vauxhall or Marylebone. A look at a passage from Boswell’s
London Journal further demonstrates the intersection of the literary world
with the world of the reader. Boswell, on his extended stay in London in
1762-1763, chronicles his experiences in the city, including countless
sexual encounters. Myriad accounts of Boswell’s carnal adventures com-
bined with topographical references of where he finds willing women or
where he performs the act indeed envision London as sexually charged.
The following passage thus potentially has a lasting impression on readers
of Boswell’s Journal:
At the bottom of the Hay-market I picked up a strong jolly young
damsel, and taking her under the Arm I conducted her to Westminster-
Bridge, and then in armour compleat did I engage her upon this noble
Edifice. The whim of doing it there with the Thames rolling below us
amused me much (10 May, 1763).
For the reader of this passage, Boswell’s sexual encounter on Westminster
Bridge establishes an intersection of the literary world with the world of
the reader so that in the event of the reader’s own stroll upon Westminster
Bridge, the space is already charged with meaning and the reader’s per-
ception of the space partly superimposed by Boswell’s sexual experienc-
es. 267 This three-fold dimension always has to be taken into account when
reading and interpreting literary representations of urban experiences with
a methodology based on psychogeography. When it comes to the dimen-
sion of the reader in particular, it is, however, difficult to track how read-
ing literary psychogeography affects readers’ spatial experiences. Not-
withstanding, it is safe to say that generally, literary representations of
London contributed to charging London’s spaces and places with meaning

It should be noted that a text can have a psychogeographical impact on the reader even
though the text as such does not contain psychogeographical traces or ideas.
Conclusion: How Does the World Enter the Text? 325

and thereby did not only shape how Londoners and visitors of London
experienced the city, but also how those that never set foot in London im-
agined the city. Because each text provided a different mode of dealing
with urbanisation and of engaging with the city, there was a perpetual ex-
change and influence of impressions and perceptions of London that oscil-
lated between the non-literary reality and the autonomous reality of liter-
ary texts (cf. Blumenberg 1979 [1964]). Thus, literary psychogeography,
with a high degree of topographical referentiality and with London walk-
ers as fictional constructs that unify autobiographical experiences of the
city with fictionalised, individual street-level explorations of the latter,
create urban imaginaries that give the reader various modes of access to
the real and to the imagined city.
Naturally, a case study of tracing psychogeographical ideas in literary rep-
resentations of eighteenth-century London can only constitute one step
towards developing an approach to literary cities that seeks to reveal the
complex layers of the real, the fictional and the imaginary. However, the
methodological approach developed in this study bears potential applica-
tions far beyond the specifics of this book. In the following, therefore, I
would like to point out some possible avenues for further research.
My suggestion has been to approach literary texts with psychoge-
ography in order to gain a renewed perspective on literary cities and to
expand our understanding of spaces and places. Perceiving psychogeogra-
phy as a way of exploring the city in relation to social, physical, historical
and psychological dimensions of everyday life, a methodology based on
psychogeography can be used to approach and comprehend literary expe-
riences of cities anywhere and in any period. Uncoupling psychogeogra-
phy from the 1950s practice, thereby expanding the understanding of psy-
chogeography, implies that the methodology developed in this study is
326 Conclusion: How Does the World Enter the Text?

neither temporally nor spatially confined. While, for reasons I have out-
lined in great detail, eighteenth-century London proves to be particularly
suitable for a psychogeographical approach, this study does not claim that
literary psychogeography can only be traced in literary experiences of
eighteenth-century London. On the contrary, psychogeographical ideas
can and should be investigated in literature from other periods as well,
also including literary psychogeography of other cities.268 While Berens-
meyer has already examined late medieval psychogeography in Thomas
Hoccleve’s and Isabella Whitney’s London writings (cf. Berensmeyer
2011), Merlin Coverley has listed Thomas de Qunicey’s Confessions of an
English Opium Eater (1812) as an example of nineteenth-century literary
psychogeography. Along similar lines, a starting point for further research
that is immediately linked to this study would be an investigation of psy-
chogeographical ideas in literature from the Romantic period. While an
analysis of Wordsworth’s “Residence in London” has already demonstrat-
ed the increasing importance of subjectivity in that period, a study of Ro-
mantic literary psychogeography would constitute a useful starting point
to further pursue the question in how far Romantic concepts of the pictur-
esque, the beautiful and the sublime are reconcilable with psychogeogra-
phy. In this connection and in light of Romanticism’s affinity with land-
scapes and nature, a psychogeographical methodology can also be used to
explore or approach rural landscapes, an aspect which has hardly been
investigated. The reasons why current psychogeography-based research
still focuses on urban spaces are the term’s city origin of 1950s Paris and
the current popularity of London-centred psychogeography, but this does
not necessarily imply that psychogeographical explorations cannot be

In eighteenth-century literature, literary explorations of Paris or Amsterdam would be
of particular interest. Compare, for instance, the Dutch version of The Spectator, van
Effen’s Hollandsche Specator (1731-1735).
Conclusion: How Does the World Enter the Text? 327

conducted outside the city. Moreover, while this study has provided read-
ings of a broad variety of primary texts, that is, texts from different gen-
res, different authors and over a time span of close to 100 years, further
studies with a psychogeographical approach could choose a more specific
focus. A possible focus, for instance, could be on the moral, spiritual and
religious psychogeography of William Blake and his works Milton (1804-
1810) and Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804-1820).
Furthermore, what this study has only slightly tackled is a look at Lon-
don’s sexual psychogeography; further research on this dimension of (ur-
ban) experiences would enable us to comprehend and reconstruct gender
relations or gender hierarchies.269 Overall, I have shown that the term
“psychogeography” harbours a lot more potential than it is commonly
granted. Because currently the term is almost excessively used, it is neces-
sary to use it carefully, especially in an academic context, as an unconsid-
ered and inflationary use of the term bears dangers and leads to confusion.
Ultimately, this study has acknowledged and clarified the potential of the
concept of psychogeography for literary studies. The study’s psychogeo-
graphical approach to literary representations of eighteenth-century Lon-
don has thereby demonstrated one of the most fundamental and important
functions of literature, namely its power to establish a relation to reality
while simultaneously bringing forth a plurality of possible worlds. As a
consequence, literary psychogeography, notwithstanding its high degree
of subjectivity and its blends of fact and fiction, considerably affects how
we as readers experience the world outside the text and thus has a power-
ful impact on ways of world-making also beyond the medium of literature.

See, for instance, the Earl of Rochester’s “Ramble in St. James’s Park” or the anony-
mous memoir of a Victorian gentleman’s sexual experiences in London, My Secret Life

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