Recently I've been reading Charles Dickens' first book, Sketches by Boz. It's not a novel, it's a collection of some observational pieces about the lives of ordinary Londoners. It was written in 1835, during the reign of William IV. It's funny, people always think of Dickens' novels as taking place in Victorian times, but while most of them were written during Victoria's reign, many are set earlier.
Anyway, there are some interesting parallels between London of 180 years ago and London now. There's a passage discussing the Hackney carriage drivers (the horse-drawn predecessor of the famous London black cab) being furious that cheaper, faster independent cabs are becoming more popular and threatening their business. The same week I read in the newspapers that there was controversy over the rising popularity of minicabs threatening the black cabs!
This passage was also interesting, in light of perennial news stories decrying binge drinking and claiming that women are becoming more violent:
"On one side, a little crowd has collected round a couple of ladies, who having imbibed the contents of various ‘three-outs’ of gin and bitters in the course of the morning, have at length differed on some point of domestic arrangement, and are on the eve of settling the quarrel satisfactorily, by an appeal to blows, greatly to the interest of other ladies who live in the same house, and tenements adjoining, and who are all partisans on one side or other.
‘Vy don’t you pitch into her, Sarah?’ exclaims one half-dressed matron, by way of encouragement. ‘Vy don’t you? if my ’usband had treated her with a drain last night, unbeknown to me, I’d tear her precious eyes out—a wixen!’
‘What’s the matter, ma’am?’ inquires another old woman, who has just bustled up to the spot.
‘Matter!’ replies the first speaker, talking at the obnoxious combatant, ‘matter! Here’s poor dear Mrs. Sulliwin, as has five blessed children of her own, can’t go out a charing for one arternoon, but what hussies must be a comin’, and ’ticing avay her oun’ ’usband, as she’s been married to twelve year come next Easter Monday, for I see the certificate ven I vas a drinkin’ a cup o’ tea vith her, only the werry last blessed Ven’sday as ever was sent. I ’appen’d to say promiscuously, “Mrs. Sulliwin,” says I—’
‘What do you mean by hussies?’ interrupts a champion of the other party, who has evinced a strong inclination throughout to get up a branch fight on her own account (‘Hooroar,’ ejaculates a pot-boy in parenthesis, ‘put the kye-bosk on her, Mary!’), ‘What do you mean by hussies?’ reiterates the champion.
‘Niver mind,’ replies the opposition expressively, ‘niver mind; you go home, and, ven you’re quite sober, mend your stockings.’
This somewhat personal allusion, not only to the lady’s habits of intemperance, but also to the state of her wardrobe, rouses her utmost ire, and she accordingly complies with the urgent request of the bystanders to ‘pitch in,’ with considerable alacrity. The scuffle became general, and terminates, in minor play-bill phraseology, with ‘arrival of the policemen, interior of the station-house, and impressive dénouement.’ "
It's also interesting to note that the characters are speaking in a form of cockney accent that has died out over the years - replacing W with V, for example. Some people like to be disparaging about the dialects used by working-class people (here in the UK, at least), without really realising that language is not static, it is constantly evolving.