Best Post about Life in the City (this year)

The AAS’s Past is Present blog had an excellent post about city living, circa 1849.

In the post, Elizabeth Watts Pope quotes extensively from a tract written around that time about the hazards of city life, which included (but were not limited to) “[h]undreds of abodes of infamy”, “porticoes of perdition”, and “low porter-houses.”

As Pope notes, only in the mind of the tract-writer would this sound unappealing.  If you’re an 18-year-old male, mention of “the dark mazes and perilous labyrinths of a modern Sodom” might very well be enough to induce you to move to the city.

The post is also a meditation on the paradox of city living: city residents often have many neighbors at quite close quarters, and are able to move around their environs in a comparatively anonymous way:

The question of whether the cultural attractions and convenience of living in a crowded city outweighed its dangers and hassles appears to be a perennial one, although the changing cultural perceptions of what those crowds mean is historically interesting.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my husband’s main complaint about the city today is that you’re so close to your neighbors that people will be looking in on you.  Ironically, when “The Temptations of City Life” was written in 1849, the population density of the city was seen as a problem for the exact opposite reason: the anonymity of the crowded streets and the separation from your family of birth was understood to mean that people would not be “looking in on you” to keep you honest and virtuous.

5 thoughts on “Best Post about Life in the City (this year)

  1. Abodes of infamy! Porticoes of perdition!! Low porter-houses(no idea what that is)!!!
    This is impossible, everyone knows these sorts of urban ills have been brought to us only within the most recent immigration cycle. Why would you try and re-write our glorious history to be less exceptionally exceptional?

    Next you’re going to try and tell us Turtle Boy wasn’t commissioned as a free beer fountain.

    1. Perhaps Turtle Boy was a low porter-house?

      Also of interest…

      The Knickerbocker, Volume 33, printed a contemporaneous review of the tract in question:

      The Temptations of City Life is the title of the third of the excellent ‘Tracts for Cities,’ publishing by J. S. Redfield, Clinton-Hall. It commends itself especially to all young men who are seeking a home and fortune in large cities.

      (emphasis added, but I think that pretty much sums it up!)

  2. ‘Portico of Perdition’ would make a great name for a bar. Even better for a strip club, is Platinum Premier for sale yet?
    Looks like is available, someone should get on that.

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