Passing tradesmen in the labyrinth of mean streets and lodging houses around Cheapside tucked their heads into their coats and plowed through the crowd of street vendors hawking hot eels, hot pea soup and doubtful pies. Bow bells rang out five as Keats idly drifted in a fever daydream, wandering past the counting houses and companies. It was the time when wholesale houses closed their shutters with a moody sense of wealth, but retail dealers, still diligent, turned up the gas that was conveyed in little soldered pipes. As it flared up in many a brilliant form, Keats -- to whose exhausted eyes everything seemed watery, floating, tinged with memory overlays of roaming these same narrow, darkening lanes with his brothers, as if in another life -- remarked once again the beauty of the world. Despite the well-advertised health dangers of its fumes, he could not help delighting in the way gaslight conjured out of the gloom of the city night a scene as laden with the swimming forms of fable as those of Ovid, Spenser or Dante, with its divine snowfall sifting like glittering dust through the stars.
Cheapside and Bow Church, London: engraved by W. Albutt after T.H. Shepherd (1837)
Cheapside: engraved by T.M. Baynes after W. Duryer (1823)
from TC: Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats