Sketches by Boz HTML version

5. Seven Dials
We have always been of opinion that if Tom King and the Frenchman had not
immortalised Seven Dials, Seven Dials would have immortalised itself. Seven Dials! the
region of song and poetry - first effusions, and last dying speeches: hallowed by the
names of Catnach and of Pitts - names that will entwine themselves with
costermongers, and barrel-organs, when penny magazines shall have superseded
penny yards of song, and capital punishment be unknown!
Look at the construction of the place. The Gordian knot was all very well in its way: so
was the maze of Hampton Court: so is the maze at the Beulah Spa: so were the ties of
stiff white neckcloths, when the difficulty of getting one on, was only to be equalled by
the apparent impossibility of ever getting it off again. But what involutions can compare
with those of Seven Dials? Where is there such another maze of streets, courts, lanes,
and alleys? Where such a pure mixture of Englishmen and Irishmen, as in this
complicated part of London? We boldly aver that we doubt the veracity of the legend to
which we have adverted. We CAN suppose a man rash enough to inquire at random -
at a house with lodgers too - for a Mr. Thompson, with all but the certainty before his
eyes, of finding at least two or three Thompsons in any house of moderate dimensions;
but a Frenchman - a Frenchman in Seven Dials! Pooh! He was an Irishman. Tom King's
education had been neglected in his infancy, and as he couldn't understand half the
man said, he took it for granted he was talking French.
The stranger who finds himself in 'The Dials' for the first time, and stands Belzoni-like, at
the entrance of seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough
around him to keep his curiosity and attention awake for no inconsiderable time. From
the irregular square into which he has plunged, the streets and courts dart in all
directions, until they are lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs over the house-
tops, and renders the dirty perspective uncertain and confined; and lounging at every
corner, as if they came there to take a few gasps of such fresh air as has found its way
so far, but is too much exhausted already, to be enabled to force itself into the narrow
alleys around, are groups of people, whose appearance and dwellings would fill any
mind but a regular Londoner's with astonishment.
On one side, a little crowd has collected round a couple of ladies, who having imbibed
the contents of various 'three-outs' of gin and bitters in the course of the morning, have
at length differed on some point of domestic arrangement, and are on the eve of settling
the quarrel satisfactorily, by an appeal to blows, greatly to the interest of other ladies
who live in the same house, and tenements adjoining, and who are all partisans on one
side or other.