I sat on an outdoor balcony during lunch yesterday, editing some work and eating a salad, and was struck by the sounds of the city – the traffic whizzing by, the rattling chain of an old bicycle, the siren of a distant firetruck, the buzz of a lawn mower, the chirps and tweets of birds, and … almost no human voices. It was late and I was practically alone, and the heat was keeping pedestrians indoors.
London in the 18th 19th centuries was famous for its noises. The rattling of carriage wheels, the sounds of animal hooves as they were driven to market, and the cries of the street vendors competing with each other created a daily assault to auditory nerves. On hot days, people propped their windows open to capture the slightest breeze, thereby letting in the noise. In Richmond yesterday all I heard was the hum of air conditioners and fans, for windows were kept firmly shut allowing no city sounds in.
Jane Austen moved from the quiet rural life in Steventon to Bath, and I wonder how much the noise and dirt of city life affected her creativity. Some people cannot abide noise while they are writing. I wonder if this was the case with Jane?
Captured in many illustrations by a number of artists over the centuries, the street Cries of London are still famous today, though the voices have died down. This illustration by Rowlandson illustrates the cry for rat traps. (My favorite rat trap is my terrier, Cody.) Color illustrations were expensive, much like color printing is today. Even fashion illustrations in ladies magazines came in two forms, color for those who could afford the cost and black and white for the frugally minded.
Today promises to be another scorcher. I will keep my windows shut again and the city noises out.
Click here to read my post about London Street Noises: The Enraged Musician by William Hogarth