Tuesday, October 29, 2013

London: The Great City

I just finished a course on the History of London, one of the DVD lecture series from The Great Courses. This lecture was 24 half-hour installments, and I am sad to see it come to an end. I learned so much, so many great stories that just help confirm my love of that fair city. The series contained a wealth of information that spanned from practically pre-historic times to the new millennium. The professor, Robert O. Bucholz, an American, attended Oxford University. He currently teaches History at Loyola University Chicago, specializing on Great Britian, Western Civilization and London, of course. He has written many books, of which now I want to look into.

But, in his last lecture, in closing, he ended the series with a poem about London, written in 1738 by John Banks, called A Description of London ... It caught my imagination. London is filled with contradictions, fascinating changes over its years. It is truly resilient, and has made it self over many times. It is formal and proper, and yet there is an undercurrent of the seedy or strange. After all, it was the home of Jack The Ripper! Reduced to ashes upon more than one occasion, it rises again like the perennial Phoenix. Banks' words paint a picture of a spirited place of movement, gaiety and pleasure, foreboding and danger.

Houses, churches, mixed together,
Streets unpleasant in all weather;
Prisons, places contiguous,
Gates, a bridge, the Thames irriguous.

Gaudy things enough to tempt ye,
Showy outsides, insides empty;
Bubbles, trades, mechanic arts,
Coaches, wheelbarrows and carts.

Warrant, bailiffs, bills unpaid,
Lords of laundresses afraid;
Rogues that nightly rob and shoot men,
Hangmen, aldermen and footmen.

Lawyers, poets, priests, physicians,
Noble, simple, all conditions:
Worth beneath a threadbare cover,
Villainy bedaubed all over.

Women black, red, fair and grey,
Prudes and such as never pray,
Handsome, ugly, noisy, still,
Some that will not, some that will.

Many a beau without a shilling,
Many a widow not unwilling;
Many a bargain, if you strike it:
This is London! How d'ye like it?

Well, I like it very much! Even though it is a huge, sprawling city, it is still walkable, and history is everywhere. Fun to explore on foot, or by tube!

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