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Spurgeon in London in the 1850’s

Author
Category Articles
Date July 10, 2003

Every species of cockney was abroad in the dark and dingy-looking streets, all walking with their heads stuck forwards, their noses turned up, their shins pointing down, their knee joints shaking, as they shuffled along with a gait perfectly ludicrous but indescribable

by Geoff Thomas

Francis Parkman is best known for his account of "The Oregon Trail". He was a student at Harvard and took a break in his studies to visit London a decade before Charles Haddon Spurgeon began his ministry in New Park Street. Parkman vividly describes in his diary his first impressions of London in a very Spurgeonic way:

When I got to London, I thought I had been there before. There, in flesh and blood, was the whole host of characters that figure in ‘Pickwick’. Every species of cockney was abroad in the dark and dingy-looking streets, all walking with their heads stuck forwards, their noses turned up, their shins pointing down, their knee joints shaking, as they shuffled along with a gait perfectly ludicrous but indescribable. The hackney coachman and cabmen, with their peculiar phraseology; the walking advertisements, in the shape of a boy completely hidden between two placards; and a hundred others . . .

St. Paul’s, which the English ridiculously compare to St Peter’s, is without exception the dirtiest and gloomiest church I have been in yet . . . I have been on mountains whence nothing could be seen but unbroken forests stretching in every direction, and I enjoyed the sight – but to look down from St. Paul’s and see tiled roofs and steeples, half hid in smoke and mist – a filthy river covered with craft running through the midst; and to hear the incessant hum and to smell the coal smoke that pollutes the air . . . the air was chilly and charged with fog and sleet . . . ‘Now,’ thought I, ‘I have under my eye the greatest collection of blockheads and rascals, the greatest horde of pimps, prostitutes, and bullies that the earth can show.’

To such a place God sent Charles Haddon Spurgeon to be its light and salt.

A London museum has just brought out a CD of the voices of politicians and poets from the late Victorian period. The first recording is from 1888, five years before Spurgeon died. It makes us dream again that in some secluded corner an old phonograph recording is still intact on which the great preacher’s voice may be heard! Who knows? There is an American record of the singing of Sankey and the preaching of Billy Sunday and other famous Christians from the beginning of the 20th century. What a novelty to hear the incomparable voice of Spurgeon. We must wait a short time to meet him at the feet of Christ.

Geoff Thomas

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