Background.

Sketches by Boz
  • Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater; and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his own misery, with the pittance which, divided among his family, would furnish a morsel of bread for each, gin-shops will increase in number and splendour” is a quotation from Sketches by Boz, Scenes, Chapter 22 (Gin Shops).

Context.

This quotation is a social commentary by Charles Dickens towards the end of the sketch Gin Shops. Having described the relentless growth of Gin Shops and one such establishment, Dickens adds a comment that there are more important things to solve that the problem of the rise of these establishments, particularly poverty and sanitation issues.

The Charles Dickens sketch, Gin-Shops first appeared in The Evening Chronicle on Saturday, 7 February 1835. The sketch starts by describing the growth of the ‘gin-palaces’, ornate gin-shops that grew in huge numbers from the late 1820’s. Dickens then goes on to describe one such establishment in the St. Giles area of London.

Gin Shops
Image from the original publication of Gin Shops which appeared in February 1835.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in the sketch Gin Shops:

We have sketched this subject very slightly, not only because our limits compel us to do so, but because, if it were pursued farther, it would be painful and repulsive. Well-disposed gentlemen, and charitable ladies, would alike turn with coldness and disgust from a description of the drunken besotted men, and wretched broken-down miserable women, who form no inconsiderable portion of the frequenters of these haunts; forgetting, in the pleasant consciousness of their own rectitude, the poverty of the one, and the temptation of the other. Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater; and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his own misery, with the pittance which, divided among his family, would furnish a morsel of bread for each, gin-shops will increase in number and splendour. If Temperance Societies would suggest an antidote against hunger, filth, and foul air, or could establish dispensaries for the gratuitous distribution of bottles of Lethe-water, gin-palaces would be numbered among the things that were. Until then, their decrease may be despaired of.

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Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater; and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his own misery, with the pittance which, divided among his family, would furnish a morsel of bread for each, gin-shops will increase in number and splendour.

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