A. de Tocqueville, Journeys to England and Ireland (Manchester)


Overshadowed on every side by immense workshops, stretches marshy land which widely spaced ditches can neither drain nor  cleanse. Narrow, twisting roads lead down to it. They are lined with  one-story houses whose ill-fitting planks and broken windows show  them up, even from a distance, as the last refuge a man might find  between poverty and death. None-the-less the wretched people I living in them can still inspire jealousy of their fellow-beings. Below some of their miserable dwellings is a row of cellars to which a sunken corridor leads. Twelve to fifteen human beings are crowded pell-mell into each of these damp, repulsive holes. [...] Look up and all around this place and you will see the huge palaces of industry. You will hear the noise of furnaces, the whistle of steam. These vast structures keep air and light out of the human habitations which they dominate; they envelope them in perpetual fog; here is the slave, there the master; there is the wealth of some, here the poverty of most; there the organised efforts of thousands produce, to the profit of one man, what society has not yet learnt to give. Here the weakness of the individual seems more feeble and helpless even than in the middle of a wilderness.   A sort of black smoke covers the city. The sun seen through it is a disc without rays. Under this half-daylight 300,000 human beings are ceaselessly at work. A thousand noises disturb this dark, damp labyrinth, but they are not at all the ordinary sounds one hears in great cities. The footsteps of a busy crowd, the crunching wheels of machinery, the shriek of steam from boilers, the regular beat of the looms, the heavy rumble of carts, those are the noises from which you can never escape in the sombre half-light of these streets. [...] Crowds are ever hurrying this way and that in the Manchester streets, but their footsteps are brisk, their looks preoccupied, and their appearance sombre and harsh .....

 (from: A. de Tocqueville, Journeys to England and Ireland, 1835)





1. Does this portrait of Manchester confirm Dickens' accounts of industrial areas?


The big manufacturing towns were also the favourite background in several American realistic  novels of the late 19th and early 20th century. What Manchester was for England in the 1840s - the shock city of the time, the symbol of the New Industrial Age - Chicago was for the USA in the 1890s.