Taking Up Picadilly

by Lord Dunsany

GOING DOWN Picadilly one day and nearing Grosvenor Place I saw, if my memory is not at fault, some workmen with their coats off — or so they seemed. They had pickaxes in their hands and wore corduroy trousers and that little leather band below the knee that goes by the astonishing name of “York-to-London.”

They seemed to be working with peculiar vehemence, so that I stopped and asked one what they were doing.

“We are taking up Picadilly,” he said to me.

“But at this time of year?” I said. “Is it usual in June?”

“We are not what we seem,” said he.

“Oh, I see,” I said, “you are doing it for a joke.”

“Well, not exactly that,” he answered me.

“For a bet?” I said.

“Not precisely,” said he.

And then I looked at the bit that they had already picked, and though it was broad daylight over my head it was darkness down there, all full of the southern stars.

“It was noisy and bad and we grew aweary of it,” said he that wore corduroy trousers. “We are not what we appear.”

They were taking up Picadilly altogether.

* * *

Source: Fifty-One Tales

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1 Comment

  1. Anthony Collins
    12 March, 2019 at 3:26 am — Reply

    Speaking of Piccadilly, the Catholic author Hilaire Belloc once wrote:

    At the end of Piccadilly is a place
    Of habitation for the Jewish race.
    Awaiting their regained Jerusalem,
    These little huts, they say, suffice for them.
    Here Rothschild lives, chief of the tribe abhorred
    Who tried to put to death Our Blessed Lord.
    But, on the third day, as the Gospel shows,
    Cheating their machinations, He arose:
    In whose commemoration, now and then,
    We persecute these curly-headed men.

    As Belloc’s biographer A. N. Wilson remarked, you either find it funny or you don’t. I find it funny.

    Belloc was referring to the Rothschild mansion, the sight of which prompted Thomas Carlyle to remark: “I do not mean that I want King John back again, but if you ask me which mode of treating these people to have been nearest to the will of the Almighty about them — to build them palaces like that, or to take the pincers for them, I declare for the pincers.” (King John is said to have had teeth pulled from the jaws of Jewish financiers to force them to reveal their financial secrets.)

    According to T. Peter Park’s entry “Jews” in The Carlyle Encyclopedia, ed. Mark Cumming (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004),

    “Charles Dickens reported to William Macready in June 1861 that ‘Carlyle has greatly intensified his aversion to Jews, and is greatly enraged by beholding the gradual rise of a Mansion that Rothschild is building next to the Duke of Wellington’s.’ Dickens recounted Carlyle’s vision of Queen Victoria summoning Rothschild before her and threatening to pull the teeth out of his ‘Mosaic head’ unless he repaid his ‘millions of ill gotten Money.”

    Park’s entry also notes:

    “Carlyle was invited to support the ‘Jew Bill’ in 1848, when Baron Rothschild, attempting to become the first Jewish member of the House of Commons, offered to pay him to write a pamphlet in its favor, but he declined.”

    “Carlyle argued that if his contemporaries could remove their ‘old Hebrew spectacles’ they would cease to ‘run to Judaea or Houndsditch to look at the doings of the Supreme.’ ‘Who conquered anarchy,’ he asked, ‘and chained it everywhere under their feet? Not the Jews with their morbid imaginations and foolish sheepskin Targums. The Norse with their steel swords guided by fresh valiant hearts and clear veracious understanding, it was they and not the Jews.”

    I wish our contemporaries would remove their “old Hebrew spectacles.”

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