The People of the Abyss by Jack London


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Page 1

Following the summer in question came a hard winter. Great numbers of
the unemployed formed into processions, as many as a dozen at a time, and
daily marched through the streets of London crying for bread. Mr. Justin
McCarthy, writing in the month of January 1903, to the New York
_Independent_, briefly epitomises the situation as follows:-

"The workhouses have no space left in which to pack the starving
crowds who are craving every day and night at their doors for food and
shelter. All the charitable institutions have exhausted their means
in trying to raise supplies of food for the famishing residents of the
garrets and cellars of London lanes and alleys. The quarters of the
Salvation Army in various parts of London are nightly besieged by
hosts of the unemployed and the hungry for whom neither shelter nor
the means of sustenance can be provided."

It has been urged that the criticism I have passed on things as they are
in England is too pessimistic. I must say, in extenuation, that of
optimists I am the most optimistic. But I measure manhood less by
political aggregations than by individuals. Society grows, while
political machines rack to pieces and become "scrap." For the English,
so far as manhood and womanhood and health and happiness go, I see a
broad and smiling future. But for a great deal of the political
machinery, which at present mismanages for them, I see nothing else than
the scrap heap.



"But you can't do it, you know," friends said, to whom I applied for
assistance in the matter of sinking myself down into the East End of
London. "You had better see the police for a guide," they added, on
second thought, painfully endeavouring to adjust themselves to the
psychological processes of a madman who had come to them with better
credentials than brains.

"But I don't want to see the police," I protested. "What I wish to do is
to go down into the East End and see things for myself. I wish to know
how those people are living there, and why they are living there, and
what they are living for. In short, I am going to live there myself."

"You don't want to _live_ down there!" everybody said, with
disapprobation writ large upon their faces. "Why, it is said there are
places where a man's life isn't worth tu'pence."

"The very places I wish to see," I broke in.

"But you can't, you know," was the unfailing rejoinder.

"Which is not what I came to see you about," I answered brusquely,
somewhat nettled by their incomprehension. "I am a stranger here, and I
want you to tell me what you know of the East End, in order that I may
have something to start on."

"But we know nothing of the East End. It is over there, somewhere." And
they waved their hands vaguely in the direction where the sun on rare
occasions may be seen to rise.

"Then I shall go to Cook's," I announced.

"Oh yes," they said, with relief. "Cook's will be sure to know."

But O Cook, O Thomas Cook & Son, path-finders and trail-clearers, living
sign-posts to all the world, and bestowers of first aid to bewildered
travellers--unhesitatingly and instantly, with ease and celerity, could
you send me to Darkest Africa or Innermost Thibet, but to the East End of
London, barely a stone's throw distant from Ludgate Circus, you know not
the way!

"You can't do it, you know," said the human emporium of routes and fares
at Cook's Cheapside branch. "It is so--hem--so unusual."

"Consult the police," he concluded authoritatively, when I had persisted.
"We are not accustomed to taking travellers to the East End; we receive
no call to take them there, and we know nothing whatsoever about the
place at all."

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Wed 26th Jan 2022, 20:48