‘Written by a ragamuffin for a ragamuffin’
It’s come to my attention that some of the more affluent members of society have taken an interest in walking around the dirty parts of London. It seems peculiar to me that some Londoners who are more well off choose to come here, the slums, and they do so willingly. But what surprises me the most about this phenomenon is that it seems to be gaining steam, especially with the endorsement of it from influential people like Dorothy Tennant. Tennant seems to like the visual aspects of it all, sayin’ that “when I grow up I should be the champion painter of the poor” (5). Be it her intentions are good; she isn’t doing much to help out the poor folk other than to give them a face in the media. Although I do pride her that she called out all the other slummers who come here to misconstrue our image. Tennant argues that “No ragamuffin is ever vulgar or common. If the pictures render him so, it is the artist’s fault, since he always pus himself into his work.” (6). Even though she advocates for a better image for us folk, the gap between us and them is still large. This gap becomes evident when Tennant writes that you can “love the ragamuffin and the Londoner” (6). But I’ll tell ya’ somethin’, us ragamuffins are Londoners too.
Sometimes they make me feel like we’re a bunch of monkeys crammed in an urban zoo with free admission. “Come by the slums for all the sights sounds and smells of the impoverished, free of any moral or social implications”. Yeah right. One of the things I just can’t understand is how the people who are doing the slumming can come here to study us and go home to a clean conscience. I mean, how can you watch death nipping at the heels of children, dying from lack of food, love, or warmth; and come home to a hot cup of tea and a clear mind. It’d be terribly easy for me to say that these people are too far gone, too far removed from the society from which they once came to help repair its broken nature. I mean, I bet none of ‘em even bat an eye at our troubles. To make an example of this we can look to the writer Clementine Black who states “the English poor have no preference for light and air” (625). How can anyone reason that the poor have no preference is whether they can see clearly or breath fresh air?
My opinion is they, the slummers, believe we don’t know what they’re thinking when they gawk at us. But we do. We can see it in their eyes when they walk by. The delusions of grandiosity which cloud their perception, making it easy to be ignorant of all the things we gotta do to get by. One never truly understands what it’s like to live in a slum if they’re just stopping by for a visit. For some of us ragamuffins can ” talk of the bitterest struggles of life, with the calm earnestness of one who endured them all.” (Mayhew 1108)
Black, Clementina. “Match-Box Making at Home.” English Illustrated Magazine (May 18920: 625-629.
Tennant Dorothy, London Street Arabs. London, Cassell & Company, 1890.
Henderson, Heather and William Sharpe, Eds. Longman Anthology of British Literature. Eds. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. Vol. 2B: The Victorian Age. 4th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006.