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The Naming Of Streets
by [?]

Streets are not less characteristic than human beings. `Look!’ cried a friend of mine, whom lately I found studying a map of London, `isn’t it appalling? All these streets–thousands of them–in this tiny compass! Think of the miles and miles of drab monotony this map contains! I pointed out to him (it is a thinker’s penalty to be always pointing things out to people) that his words were nonsense. I told him that the streets on this map were no more monotonous than the rivers on the map of England. Just as there were no two rivers alike, every one of them having its own speed, its own windings, depths, and shallows, its own way with the reeds and grasses, so had every street its own claim to an especial nymph, forasmuch as no two streets had exactly the same proportions, the same habitual traffic, the same type of shops or houses, the same inhabitants. In some cases, of course, the difference between the `atmosphere’ of two streets is a subtle difference. But it is always there, not less definite to any one who searches for it than the difference between (say) Hill Street and Pont Street, High Street Kensington and High Street Notting Hill, Fleet Street and the Strand. I have here purposely opposed to each other streets that have obvious points of likeness. But what a yawning gulf of difference is between each couple! Hill Street, with its staid distinction, and Pont Street, with its eager, pushful `smartness,’ its air de petit parvenu, its obvious delight in having been `taken up’; High Street Notting Hill, down-at-heels and unashamed, with a placid smile on its broad ugly face, and High Street Kensington, with its traces of former beauty, and its air of neatness and self-respect, as befits one who in her day has been caressed by royalty; Fleet Street, that seething channel of business, and the Strand, that swollen river of business, on whose surface float so many aimless and unsightly objects. In every one of these thoroughfares my mood and my manner are differently affected. In Hill Street, instinctively, I walk very slowly–sometimes, even with a slight limp, as one recovering from an accident in the hunting-field. I feel very well-bred there, and, though not clever, very proud, and quick to resent any familiarity from those whom elsewhere I should regard as my equals. In Pont Street my demeanour is not so calm and measured. I feel less sure of myself, and adopt a slight swagger. In High Street, Kensington, I find myself dapper and respectable, with a timid leaning to the fine arts. In High Street, Notting Hill, I become frankly common. Fleet Street fills me with a conviction that if I don’t make haste I shall be jeopardising the national welfare. The Strand utterly unmans me, leaving me with only two sensations: (1) a regret that I have made such a mess of my life; (2) a craving for alcohol. These are but a few instances. If I had time, I could show you that every street known to me in London has a definite effect on me, and that no two streets have exactly the same effect. For the most part, these effects differ in kind according only to the different districts and their different modes of life; but they differ in detail according to such specific little differences as exist between such cognate streets as Bruton Street and Curzon Street, Doughty Street and Great Russell Street. Every one of my readers, doubtless, realises that he, too, is thus affected by the character of streets. And I doubt not that for him, as for me, the mere sound or sight of a street’s name conjures up the sensation he feels when he passes through that street. For him, probably, the name of every street has hitherto seemed to be also its exact, inevitable symbol, a perfect suggestion of its character. He has believed that the grand or beautiful streets have grand or beautiful names, the mean or ugly streets mean or ugly names. Let me assure him that this is a delusion. The name of a street, as of a human being, derives its whole quality from its bearer.