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Dickens’ World

April 7, 2022

I’ve been rereading my collection of Charles Dickens’ novels. They describe the England of about 200 years ago. The world is completely different, but people are mostly the same.

Electricity had not been discovered yet. People lit their houses with candles. In old houses, the ceilings were black from all of the candle smoke. They did have gas lamps, but it wasn’t natural gas that they burned. It was manufactured gas, made from coal. Needless to say, there was no telegraph or telephone. Mail moved at the speed of horses.

Houses did not have central heating: it hadn’t been invented yet, at least on a wide scale. Instead, there was a fireplace in every room, including the bedrooms. Most of the fireplaces, and also the kitchen stove, burned coal. There was no insulation in the walls.

Petroleum also had not been discovered yet. There were no cars or trucks. Horses were everywhere. Wealthy people rode in carriages or on horseback. Poor people walked or looked for a ride on a wagon or carriage. Houses belonging to wealthy families had a stable for the horses, and a groom to look after them.

Medicine was in a primitive state 200 years ago. Doctors did the best they could without antibiotics and without anesthetic. In fact, doctors did not know the cause of disease and did not understand infection. In the face of urgent need, doctors did set broken bones, and did perform surgery, including amputations. Medicines were mostly tonics or stimulants.

Houses had no running water. They got water from a pump in the back yard. If the water needed to be heated, they used the kitchen stove for that. Likewise, houses had no sewers or drains. They did have a cess pit in the basement where the servants emptied the chamber pots. Of course, only wealthy people had servants.

Could you live in that world?

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