"I shall consider the whole of the metropolitan poor under three separate phases, according as they will work, they can’t work, and they won’t work."
London Labour and the London Poor originated in a series of articles written for the Morning Chronicle in 1849-50, when Mayhew was at the height of his powers as a journalist, and was eventually published in four volumes in 1861-2.
Victor Neuburg’s judicious selection ranges from costermongers to ex-convicts, from chimney-sweeps to vagrants, and includes illustrations from the 1865 impression. Mayhew had no theoretical or political axe to grind, and eschewed vague philanthropy: he was as prepared to attribute the hardships of the poor to themselves as to society. Nevertheless, his outlook was compassionate and practical; and his aim was simply to report. This selection shows how well he succeeded: the underprivileged of London become extraordinarily and often shockingly alive—and Dickens is shown to be no exaggerator of life on the breadline in the middle of the nineteenth century.