Pember Street, E., is never very cheerful in appearance, not even in mid-spring, when the dingy lilacs in the forecourts of those grimy houses bourgeon and blossom. The shrubs assimilate soon the general air of depression common to the neighbourhood. The smoke catches and turns them; they wilt or wither; and the bunches of flowers are sicklied over with the smuts and blacks of the roaring chimneys. The one open space within reach is the river, and thither I frequently repaired during the three years I practised in the East End. At least it was something to have that wide flood before one, the channel of great winds and the haunt of strange craft. The tide grew turbid under the Tower Bridge and rolled desolately about the barren wilderness of the Isle of Dogs; but it was for all that a breach in the continuity of ugly streets and houses, a wide road itself, on which tramped unknown and curious lives, passing to and fro between London and foreign parts.
Unless a man be in deadly earnest or very young, I cannot conceive a career more distressing to the imagination and crushing to the ambition than the practice of medicine in the East End. The bulk of my cases were club cases which enabled me to be sure of a living, and the rest were for the most part sordid and unpleasant subjects, springing out of the vile life of the district. Alien sailors abounded and quarrelled fiercely. Often and often have I been awakened in the dead hours to find drunken and foreign-speaking men at my door, with one or more among them suffering from a dangerous knife-wound. And the point of it that came nearly home to me was that this career would not only lead to nothing, but was unprofitable in itself. I had taken the position in the hope that I might make something of it, but I found that it was all I could do to maintain my place. I made no charge for advice in my consultations, but took a little money on the medicine which I made up. Is any position to be conceived more degrading to a professional man? The one bright time in my week was of a Saturday, when I donned my best coat and gloves, took down my silkiest hat, and, discarding the fumes and flavours of the East, set out for Piccadilly. I still remained a member of a decent club, and here I lunched in my glory, talked with some human creatures, exchanged views on the affairs of the world, smoked and lolled in comfortable chairs—in short, took my enjoyment like a man-about-town, and then went back to earn my next week's holiday.