“Hey, Sam, I’ll Text You a Pic of It”

Definitely the 21st Century

One of the things I’ve been gathering a lot of information about is about what I might call generically “life in the 18th century.” Given that the book is aimed at a general readership, I think it’s important to give people an idea of what it was like to live during that century. I don’t mean that I will be concentrating on wars and political events and that sort of thing. I won’t be. I mean: what was it like to live your daily life? How did you wake up in the morning? What jobs did people do? What condition were the streets in? Was the mail service reliable? How did people dress and where did they buy their clothes? Was there any such thing as “off the rack” or was everything made by tailors? What did homes look like? Did people generally own them or rent them? And how much did everything cost? What was significantly cheaper than it is now, and what was more expensive?

And so on like that. Medicine, poverty, publishing, religion, sex, style, watches — and much more. One could write a whole book about all that, of course — and several people have! — but my plan is to try to compact it into a readable chapter or two. The focus of the book is Samuel Johnson, not life in London in the 18th century, but I do feel that people need a taste of the latter before they can savour the former. I’ve found much information in books and journals, of course, but I’ve also interviewed experts who have given me details that are just invaluable.

The whole thing also sometimes makes me think about what it would be like if Johnson were living in the 21st century. His Rambler essays, for example, would make a nice blog — and at twice a week and kept up for two solid years, much more successful than most blogs are. I myself manage to do these fairly short blog postings about once or twice a month. This one will have about 500 words in it — pretty modest. Each of Johnson’s twice-weekly essays was well over a thousand words on average.

I’ll end with a plea … if there’s an aspect of 18th-century living, especially in London, that you know a lot about, please contact me any time. I’d love to hear from you.

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