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200 Years Ago

February 11, 2020

I’ve been reading Charles Dickens’ novels.  They are set in a different world, one that difficult to imagine because it’s so different from today’s world.

It was a world before Internet, before television, before radio, even before the telephone.  Their only means of communication was mail.  It, though, was highly developed, with two mail deliveries per day.

Transportation was on horseback, or by carriages, wagons, or carts pulled by horses.  People often walked from town to town, if they could not afford to go by horse-drawn vehicle.  Some walked from one end of England to another.

Houses were heated by fireplaces in each room.  They burned coal or wood.  If people couldn’t afford fuel, they shivered in the cold.  Light came from candles, oil lamps, and eventually gas lamps.

Medicine was completely different from the way it is today.  Nobody knew the cause of disease, although they often speculated that it was caused by stagnant water or by rotting garbage.  The first vaccination used cow pox serum to inoculate people against smallpox, a terrible disease at the time.  The first anti-vaccination movement appeared shortly afterward.  There were plenty of doctors, but they dispensed pills and helped people as they could.  Doctors relied on their reputations.  They were powerless to cure most diseases.  In fact, treatment of diseases was primitive.  People would sprinkle vinegar around the bedroom of a sick person in an attempt to prevent spread of the disease.

Social classes were more rigid than they are now.  People of the gentleman class had a house full of servants.  Working people had jobs but still could only afford one or two servants.  Sometimes working people couldn’t afford even one.  Poor people, of course, had no servants.  Women had only one future: to get married, have children, and care for a household.  Women’s work was knitting, embroidery, or mending.

Many types of people appeared in these novels.  Some were always good.  Some were always evil.  Some were selfish.  Others were generous.  Some people changed their personalities in the course of time.  Others never changed.  Does this sound familiar?  It should.  People 200 years ago were the same as today.


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