I’ve been reading a book by Robert Shoemaker titled The London Mob. It’s a good, serious but fun book, not least because it points the reader, and modern walker in the direction of various texts that he or she might otherwise not know about. Among these are Daniel Defoe’s Some Considerations Upon Street-Walkers. With a Proposal for Lessening the Present Number of Them. And a poem by John Gay titled “Trivia: or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London,” written in 1716. I wish I’d known about them sooner.
The Defoe text describes the problems he’s experienced while walking “upon important business” from Charing Cross to Ludgate:
“I have every now and then been put to the halt: sometimes by the full encounter of an audacious harlot, whose impudent leer shew’d she only stopped my passage in order to draw my observation on her; at other times, by twitches of the sleeve, lewd and ogling salutations; and not infrequently by the more profligate impudence of some jades, who boldy dare to seize a man by the elbow, and make insolent demands of wine and treats before they let him go.”
Now, I haven’t led an especially sheltered life, and I’ve certainly done plenty of walking around Charing Cross but nobody has ever demanded “wine and treats” from me. A bit of me almost wishes they had.
The Gay poem, an imitation of Juvenal (inevitably), gives bits of handy advice about walking in London. The include: don’t wear black, don’t wear stylish shoes, keep an eye on the weather, and be especially cautious at night. Also keep an eye out for dodgy women, obviously, and make sure that nobody steals your wig.
Where the Mob gathers, swiftly shoot along,
Nor idly mingle in the noisy Throng.
Lur’d by the Silver Hilt, amid the Swarm,
The subtil Artist will thy Side disarm.
Nor is thy Flaxen Wigg with Safety worn;
High on the Shoulder, in a Basket born,
Lurks the sly Boy; whose Hand to Rapine bred,
Plucks off the curling Honours of thy Head.
Now I assume that John Gay probably was a wig wearer, at least some of the time, but the best known portraits of him show him wearing a turban arrangement that I’d have thought would be just asking for trouble if you dared to wear it while walking the streets of London.