"So ill looked a place, among all the whore houses:" Mapping Moral and Physical Cleanliness in London from the mid-Sixteenth to the mid-Seventeenth Century
For much of the modern era, a Malthusian attitude toward the poor was commonplace England and elsewhere. The poor brought poverty and suffering on themselves through laziness, lust, and gluttony. If they became sick, it was because they had no sense of decency and chose to live in drunken squalor. This study examines early manifestations of such attitudes in sixteenth and seventeenth-century London. Sin, sickness, and crime were clearly associated popular contemporary print works. Writing is not the same as policy, however. Did contemporaries act on these mental associations? An analysis of the spatial distributions of popular literary criminal accounts, Bridewell Hospital records, and parish burial registers reveals that by the mid-seventeenth century, perceptions of crime and disease formed a topography which identified both the dank, impoverished back-alleys and prominent London landmarks as sites of moral and physical sickness. Sites of finance and modern commercial exchange, which challenged traditional values, were perceived as particularly risky. Qualitative analysis of contemporary text demonstrates that the authors of rogue pamphlets and other cheap print "discovered" these locations, enabling their readers minimize the risks of city living with some success. Two issues remained, however. First, the crimes described in the pamphlets were actually imitated by some Bridewell defendants. Second, lurking beneath this predictable topography was the role of the household in perpetuating the risks of both crime and sickness. Servants were susceptible to both endemic and epidemic disease as well as the enticements of playhouses, whorehouses, and gambling dens. Neither their health nor their behavior could be ensured with absolute certainty. Unlike the terrain of publically discussed risks, therefore, the risks brought into the household by servants ultimately could not be avoided or controlled. The household always threatened, by its very makeup, to be ungovernable. The need to address household disorder and sickness led to the publication of many advice manuals and were reflected in contemporary diaries. The stresses of the permeable household also seem likely to have contributed to the development of a modern sense of self, defined more by one's own actions and less by those of family, servants, and neighbors.
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