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Yesterday I was roaming the fields in the neighbourhood of Hornsey woods and Muswell hill, poking in the ditches, pulling down the honeysuckle in the hedges, peering into the long grass to watch the short-legged ladybird, and longlegged grasshopper; and every now and then sitting on the stiles to rest myself, and wipe my spectacles; and where am I now? Why, on the top of the Monument, looking around on London's proud city lying below.
You will say that a man, at my time of life, might be well satisfied to keep his feet on level ground, and not give way to the pitiful ambition of getting above the head .of his neighbours. Well! well! say what you will, the truth is the truth, and I will not disguise it: whether it be wise or foolish, right or wrong in me to have mounted so high, here I am. Yes! here is Old Humphrey on the top of the Monument; the breeze blowing so freshly that he can hardly keep his hat upon his head.
While I pencil down these remarks, I am obliged to get to, what a sailor would call, the "lee side" of the column, and rest my paper on the iron railing, for the blustering wind pays no more respect to an old man than it does to a young one. There! a half sheet of thick post has been blown from my hand, and is flying and fluttering far above the highest houses in the direction of Leadenhall Market.
It is said that a man ought not to ascend a high hill, without coming down again wiser and better than he went up. Whether I shall go down wiser than I ascended, it would be hard to say; but assuredly it ought to be so, after all the labour it has cost me to clamber up the three hundred and forty-five steps of this winding staircase, to say nothing of the sixpence given to the doorkeeper, and another paid for his little book. My legs ache, and my knees shake with the exertion. Time has been when I could have run up such a place as this without stopping; when I could have skipped up two or three steps at a time as nimbly as a kid; but it is idle to boast of what I have been; my aching joints tell me what I am now.
A comfortable seat would be a great luxury at this moment, that I might recover my breath, and collect myself a little; but such a thing is not to be had for love or money. I feel what I suppose is common to the visitors of this place—a slight sensation of insecurity, of danger, and fear; an inclination to keep close to the column, and to the doorway leading down the staircase. Now and then, too, my imagination gets the better of me, and I fancy myself plunging down headlong from this fearful height. We are but poor creatures when placed in situations of novelty and apparent danger. Pheugh! my hat was all but gone, and very ill could Ispare it under my present circumstances. I half begin to doubt the wisdom of my ambitious enterprise. Let me tie my pocket handkerchief round my neck, for the wind searches me. There, I shall now do pretty well.
The book in the blue cover, that I bought down below, informs me that the great London fire, in the year 1666, which this monument is meant to commemorate, consumed the buildings on four hundred and thirty-six acres of ground, four hundred streets and lanes, thirteen thousand two hundred houses, the cathedral church of St. Paul, eighty-nine parish churches, six chapels, Guildhall, Royal Exchange, Custom House, Blackwell Hall, divers hospitals and libraries, fifty-two of the companies' halls, and a vast number of other stately edifices; together with three of the city gates, four bridges, the prisons of Newgate and the Fleet, Poultry and Wood-street compters; the loss of which, together with that of the merchandize and household furniture, by the best calculation, amounted to ten millions seven hundred and thirty thousand five hundred pounds.
I am now trying to imagine myself surrounded by this most terrible conflagration. Oh the distress, the misery, the despair, that must have wrung the hearts of the houseless and homeless multitude! Yet, see how mercy was mingled with judgment; only eight human lives were lost by this fearful visitation; and the plague, which had long raged in the city, was stayed by the devouring flames!The account given of the fire thrills one's very soul. "Then did the city shake indeed, and the inhabitants did tremble, and fled away in great amazement from their houses, lest the flames should devour them. Rattle, rattle, rattle, was the noise which the fire struck upon the ear round about, as if there had been a thousand iron chariots beating upon the stones; and if you opened your eye to the opening of the streets where the fire was come, you might see, in some places, whole streets at once in flames, that issued forth as if they had been so many great forges from the opposite windows, which, folding together, united into one great flame throughout the whole street; and then you might see the houses tumble, tumble, tumble from one end of the street to the other, with a great crash, leaving the foundations open to the view of the heavens.
"And now horrible flakes of fire mount up to the sky, and the yellow smoke of London ascended up towards heaven, like the smoke of a great furnace—a smoke so great as darkened the sun at noonday. If, at any time, the sun peeped forth, it looked red like blood. The cloud of smoke was so great, that travellers did ride at noonday some miles together in the shadow thereof, though there were no other cloud beside to be seen in the sky."
Surely no one should ascend this towering column without an ejaculation of thankfulness for Divine preservation, and a prayer to the Father of mercies, that London may be, for ever, spared the repetition of such a dire calamity. But now let me look around.
London, as seen from this place, is a continuous mass of brickwork, slate roofs, windows, and red chimney-pots, studded over pretty freely with the white towers and dark spires of churches, while curling smoke is rising in all directions from the unnumbered streets.
The rumbling noise of carts, wagons, cabs, coaches, omnibuses, and carriages is incessant; like the roar of the restless ocean, it allows no respite—loud, heavy, monotonous, and continual.
My fellow men are the same restless beings when seen from this point of view, as from any other; the same busy, bustling, selfish attention to their individual interests is visible. The loaded porters are hurrying down the hill to the steam