16 OCTOBER 1880, Page 9


CAN nothing be done about London Fogs ? We are going to be wrapped in their horrible folds for two long months, and nobody but Dr. A. Carpenter so much as shouts us a word of warning. The Times is perfectly right to open its columns to the discussion of the subject, for the evil is becoming unendurable, and will, if it increases as it recently has done, seriously affect the prosperity as well as the healthiness of the capital. Members of Parliament do not feel it, for they go away and keep away during the Fog season ; but for the true inhabi- tants of London, the three millions of people who are con- demned to live here through the winter, life is made seriously worse by the pall which from the end of October to the middle of February overhangs the over-populated city. Life may be worth living, for all Schopenhauer, but a life of labour under a

catafalque 1 It is surplusage to tell us there have always been fogs. Of course there have been fogs, but they have been reason- able fogs and seasonable fogs, not these permanent clouds of black mist. When it was cold above and warm below, and the air was saturated with moisture, there was, of course, a mist, which, being coloured by the smoke it pressed down, became a yellow fog, very disagreeable to the smell, very difficult to move through, and quite fatal to any work requiring a fine eyesight. Such fogs were obnoxious, but they rarely lasted more than three days, they yielded to the first breeze, and they were general over a considerable division of the country,—which, though no advantage, was a reason for patient resignation. The London Fogs of to-day are in certain months nearly permanent. When the barometer is high, when there is no moisture, when every- where round the Metropolis the air is bright, though keen, and the light most inspiriting, a greyish-brown cloud, indescribably melancholy in colour, folds itself in hideous convolutions over London, shutting out the Sun's rays, stopping light breezes, falling at intervals in a pitiless rain of fine smut, and rendering life, for all who feel external gloom strongly, almost unendur- able. This cloud is composed almost wholly of smoke; it never departs except in face of a gale, and then it reassembles in a few hours, almost as thick as before. Last year it hung up there in the upper air for more than nine weeks, immovable, till one felt like adding a prayer against the smoke-cloud to the English Missal. Asthmatic people died at the rate of two-and- a-quarter times the usual proportion ; children with whooping- cough could not get well ; all men with the faintest trouble of the lungs grew fatigued and sleepless, with the extra work imposed upon their weak organs ; but the cloud was as stationary as if it had been solid, and rested upon pillars built for its sup- port. But that knowledge contradicted eyesight, men would have called for huge masts to shore it up. By day, it seemed always to threaten rain, which, when it came, nevertheless, brought no relief ; while by night, it reflected back the multi- tudinous gas-lights, until, seen from the upland on the north, from Harrow or Hendon, or Hampstead or Highgate, the resemblance was not so much to Tennyson's " dreary dawn," as to a huge fire burning in a miasmatic marsh. Sometimes the air was by day a little lighter below and sometimes a little darker, and it was noticeable that the fog seldom rendered movement impossible, as the old fogs used to do, but it was as continual as the need of money and as unremitting as Irish grievances.

People not ordinarily poetic felt inclined to make sonnets about its pitilessness, as great poets have done about the sea. It was an aggravation additional that the cloud covered no great area, but seemed to have walls, to drop heavy, gloomy, smoke-coloured

portiZre8 over all the entrances to the great city, till as you

walked up Hampstead Hill you often seemed to emerge as from some cavern into sunshine and pleasant air, and to regain in a moment lost capacities of sight. The writer, who has a sense of personal hostility to fogs, which rob him of half his in- different eyesight, repeatedly noticed that the limits of the fog were so distinct, that it was possible for a horse to be invisible while every line in the cart it was drawing was still in bright light, and Dr. Alfred Carpenter puts this peculiarity of re- cent fogs quite as strongly. He writes, in the Times of Wednesday :-

" I had occasion to be in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park ono Sunday forenoon, a few days ago. I had left my residence at Croy- don, where the sun was shining brightly, the air clear and pure, and nature all beautiful in the stillness which pervaded the atmosphere. After we had passed Clapham-Junction Station, a yellowish-brown bank appeared, with outline as distinct as belongs to a distant cloud. It was close to us, and as the train crossed the river, we wore en- veloped in a pall which allowed us only to see a few yards in advance. In some places, the shroud produced a darkness almost complete, and gas-lights appeared. In some parts of Hyde Park I could only see a few yards in advance; in others, the area was fifty yards or more. The trees looked weird in their outline, and persons receding or ap- proaching looked liko giants, while all nature seemed oppressed. I saw that in front of me which at first appeared to be a herd of some black animals of the Deinotherium ' tribe, but which, being ap- proached more closely, were found to be sheep, with wool not white as nature wishes it, but black no ink. One felt a kind of pity for the poor animals condemned to wear such sooty clothing. The barometer was rising; it was very high,--90.2

There was no wind, and the air was quite warm There was scarcely a cloud in the sky, and the sun itself was trying to pierce the shroud, and now and then it was indistinctly visible as a dull-copper disc. The air both outside and within the pall was per- fectly dry. There was no fog, therefore, in the ordinary sense of the term, and yet the West End of London was dark enough in places to require gas for illuminating purposes, when all nature outside the cloud was smiling, and the atmosphere beautifully clear. It was not mist or fog, therefore, rising from the river or other damp places. It was Sunday morning, too. The majority of the factories (where the law as to smoke consumption is defied) were not at work."

The fog, in fact, is a man-made article, and has no business

up there at all, and would not have been there but for the smoke from innumerable domestic fires, the extinction of which in sum- mer is the chief reason why Londoners are permitted for a few months in every year to see the sky. Those fires increase with the population, until, as Dr. A. Carpenter gloomily prophesies,

London, for four months in the year, is in danger of being wrapped in fog whenever the barometer is high and there is

anything like a calm, which latter event, from the situation of the high lands on each side of the Valley of the Thames, is of almost constant occurrence. There is, therefore, every proba- bility that during the coming November, December, January,

and February, London will be wrapped, with brief intervals, in a thick, light-destroying, disheartening, asphyxiating, im- movable fog.

Dr. Carpenter points out clearly, in his letter to the Times, the great injury to health which these fogs cause, which, in-

deed, is sufficiently patent from the Registrar-General's Returns; but he naturally sticks to the health question too closely, and

his remedy does not quite convince us. The citizens of great cities are very patient under insalubrious conditions. They make very little fuss if the death-rate doubles, provided it is not doubled by an epidemic, and it may be questioned if Lon- don would ever have obtained the new drainage system, if it had depended on a plebiscite of ratepayers. But they feel the dis- comfort of darkness, which interferes sadly with some trades and professions—the artists last year, for instance, lost a third of their aggregate incomes, in the mere stoppage of their labour—and the injury done to property. A fog like that of last year fines London in hundreds of thousands of pounds, merely in the injury done to upholstery, books, and clothing ; while the whole people arc rendered less happy, more inclined to gin, and less capable of work. Work done in comparative blindness is not done quickly or well, and the sunless air, heavy with descending soot, directly diminishes the available quantum of energy. Who is to move quickly or think brightly, while swimming in a sea of diluted soot ? The people arc hiving in a chimney, and a chimney is, for all created things but swallows, a gloomy place. The depression is severe enough to be felt, and last year the majority were conscious enough of it to recognise its canoe ; though, believing remedy hopeless, they submitted with the doggedly gloomy resignation, which is their remedy for suffering, and which is the distinctive difference between an Englishman and an American. If the physicists could only convince them that remedy was possible, they would, we believe, be very eager to secure it, and would, we think, submit to Dr. Carpenter's pro- posal of a heavy tax on their open fires. They would soon save the money in lessened consumption of coal, and might, to be rid of fog, part with their cheerful fires, those who could not bear their absence burning wood, as all mankind does upon the Continent. But we confess we doubt universal London consenting to have its food cooked by private gas stoves, which are always going wrong, which smell, and which only experts ever make hot enough. They might give up private cooking, which is a waste and an imbecility, but they will be slow to resort to gas. Is it, however, absolutely certain that to be rid of fogs we must resort togas stoves ? Cannot the open fire be reconciled with freedom from smoke, all smoke being consumed in or above the chimney, or carried by smoke-pipes from block to block, till it can be utilised ? There seems to be a want of brain somewhere, in an arrangement by which a vapour which, while warm, will rise of itself, and which is, after all, only bad, unclarified coal-gas, must be exhaled into the open air, to become an unmitigated nuisance. Cannot we send it somewhere else P It does not seem impossible to carry away smoke at an expense less than a tax on open fires, or to invent a fuel which shall be coal in all good proper- ties, like anthracite, and yet not smoke. The American anthracite stoves would solve our difficulty readily enough, but to compel their use would be impossible, even it would be expedient. Surely, considering the wealth of London and the growing character of the evil, the men of science must be able to devise some practical remedy which would still leave us fires, or the appearance of fires, at an endurable cost ? We venture to say if the smoke-cloud were only a little deadlier they would find one rapidly enough, and only wish the writer who recently described the destruction of London by asphyxiation had been as clever as the author of " The Battle of Dorking," and had roused a good, working, unreasonable, irresistible, roaring panic. Londoners might have hung a manufacturer or two, to encourage others to consume their own smoke ; but manufacturers are not much missed, and in a very few days the engineers would have compelled Science to perform her new task, and put an end to fogs. We want a smoke- bottle in every chimney that will burn up the smoke, or solidify the smoke, till the dustmen can take it away early for manure. Gas stoves woull be as great nuisances as the fogs.