Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Chafing Tide

Herewith a companion piece to the last post. This quote has a source too complicated to cite at the outset, but please note that the Dr. Johnson here is not named Samuel Johnson; that Dr. Johnson died before the nineteenth century dawned (in 1784).  First the picture:

…it was the wear and tear of early nineteenth century London life that … made a change of surroundings desirable and often mandatory. Dr. Johson’s own impressions upon his departure from the English metropolis in search of better climes present a graphic picture of a “modern” industrial capital. “As the carriage moved slowly up Shooter’s Hill, one fine autumnal morning, I turned round to take a parting look at Modern Babylon. My eye ranged along the interminable grove of masts that shewed her boundless commerce—the hundred spires that proclaimed her ardent piety—the dense canopy of smoke that spread itself over her countless streets and squares, enveloping a million and a half of human beings in murky vapour.”
     Inevitably there follows his nostalgic comparison with his first sight of London thirty years earlier, when it appeared calm and beautiful and promising of a peaceful life. But even then, the “chafing tide of human existence” made him feel annihilated, “lost like a drop of water in the ocean,” and he felt certain that there were “few who do not experience this feeling of abasement on first mixing with the crowd in the streets of London.” In this engulfment which, according to Dr. Johnson, first gives rise to ever-mounting tensions resulting in a condition of “body and mind, intermediate between that of sickness and health, but much nearer to the former” which is constantly felt “by tens of thousands in this metropolis, and throughout the empire.” Dr. Johnson considered this condition incurable, although he was sure that it added greatly to the practice of the doctors and of the undertakers.

The actual text appearing here came from an article by Ilza Veith, “The Wear and Tear Syndrome—1831,” appearing in Modern Medicine, September 4, 1961. The content is part of a review by Veith of a book, published in 1831, by Dr. James Johnson, Change of Air or The Pursuit of Health. In turn, I found this review in Karl A. Menninger’s book, The Vital Balance, published in 1963.

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