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London throughout the nineteenth century crackled with energy. It was World City; it was proto-Futurist.

The famous Rhinebeck view of London in 1810, mentioned earlier, at first glance it looks a serene document, a grand but placid view of the Regency city; but all is not as it seems; look closely and suddenly you find, now here, now there amidst these stuccoed streets fire, insurrection, detonation. Fleeing crowds escape obscure disasters, just as they do in some of Boccioni's painings exactly one hundred years later. (Walter Benjamin writes of "the more secret, more deeply embedded figures of the city: murders and rebellions, the bloody knots in the network of the streets, lairs of love, and conflagrations"). It is, in its colour and light and movement, almost a futurist view of the city. Other proto-futurist documents are paintings of fire popular at the time, particularly the fire at Covent Garden in 1803 recorded with much kinetic excitement in a print.

(Indeed, it was only when there was a fire that Turner seemed to discover interest in London, especially in the Burning of the Houses of Parliament paintings 0f 1834. In fact it was Monet who did for London (in his paintings c. 1900) what Turner could have done sixty years earlier, but chose not to.

London was futurist 100 years avant la lettre. Light, Speed, Industry, Machinery Evocations abound through the century: vincenzo Bellini, the Italian composer of opera writes in 1833: "London looked like a big light. I was taken by a welath of light and colour."

"The dome of St. Paul's was visible in the night, with a lurid zone of red lights across it; and from the top of the Monument a stream of electric flame shot across the sky before us." A.J. Munby: Diaries.

The luminosity of the city makes even Mayhew (for all the social earnestness of his writings) futuristically lyrical:

"Though the stars be shining in the heavens here is another firmament spread out below with its millions of bright lights glittering at the feet. Line after line sparkles like the trails left by meteors....over the whole, too, there hangs a lurid cloud, bright as if the monster city were in flames, and looking from afar like the sea at dusk, made phosphorescent by the million creatures dwelling within it." Mayhew: Labour and the Poor. 1849.


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  verybigcity: e-Book by Rodney Blakeston
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