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The Aire Below
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: August 05, 2004 04:58AM

The AIRE below is doubly dyed and damned;
The AIR above, with lurid smoke is crammed:
The ONE flows steaming foul as Charon's Styx.
Its poisonous vapours in the other mix.

These sable twins the murky towns invest
By them the skin's begrimed, the lungs oppressed
How dear the penalty thus paid for wealth
Obtained through wasted life and broken health.

Quoted by William Osburn at a meeting of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 1857 and engraved on a glass sculpture on Leeds waterfront (ie on the banks of the River Aire).

Not sure if Osburn wrote it himself, or if there's any more, but I'd love to find out. Has anyone come across it - it's rather a forlorn hope - but I've always had an interest in industrial history and pollution and think this must have been one of the earliest anti-industry poems to consider pollution being directly responsible for illness - if I'm wrong, do point me to earlier ones, please. All information/comment gratefully received.

Re: The Aire Below
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: August 05, 2004 11:05AM

The City of Leeds website attributes it TO Mr. Osburn:

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and ends it with an elipsis, implying that there are more lines than the eight you already know.

My next step would be to email someone at the Leeds chamber of commerse (via the website), and/or the Leeds Historical Society (if there is one) and/or a big library there.

Knowing how much you enjoy the hunt, I'll let YOU take the next step.


EARLIER poems linking pollution to illness? GREAT QUESTION! Must give that some thought.

Re: The Aire Below
Posted by: Johnny SansCulo (
Date: August 05, 2004 11:42AM

wondering if he was "Ozzy" Osburn to his friends?

Re: The Aire Below
Posted by: Pam Adams (
Date: August 05, 2004 12:49PM

Marian-NYC wrote:

EARLIER poems linking pollution to illness? GREAT QUESTION!
Must give that some thought.

Blake comes to mind- perhaps something by Thoreau?


Re: The Aire Below
Posted by: Pam Adams (
Date: August 05, 2004 01:03PM

This is the Thoreau I was thinking of- it's from Walden, in the chapter Economy.

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion. I would rather ride on earth in an ox cart, with a free circulation, than go to heaven in the fancy car of an excursion train and breathe a malaria all the way.


Re: The Aire Below
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: August 05, 2004 02:12PM

[] />
This is an essay on the unhealthy London fog of the industrial era, including a couple of passages from CHARLES DICKENS.

One of the Dickens bits ends like this: "the whole metropolis was a heap of vapour charged with the muffled sound of wheels and enfolding a gigantic catarrh."

(CATARRH = "irritation of the mucous membrane of the respiratory passages")

Re: The Aire Below
Posted by: lg (
Date: August 05, 2004 03:08PM

Marian, there may be some information here:

[] />


Re: The Aire Below
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: August 09, 2004 09:18AM

Thanks very much for all the help. I'll chase up the Leeds library - there is a commercial one, but I can't remember where. At the moment I seem snowed under with various sorts of work (all imminently required) so it'll have to go on the back burner, but if I find any more of the Osburn, I'll post it. At least we are having a monsoon, so I can't tackle the jungle until it dries out.

I love Thoreau's comment - it sums up how I feel about exercising in a gym - and the Dickens was apposite too - I wish I could read his books but they are too wordy and concentrated, I lose the plots by being distracted by the detail , but I find quotes from his work fascinating. Someone told me you grow into Dickens as you get older and have more time to read in a leisurely fashion, but I find I get more frantic and have a bigger stack of books I want to read so read faster and faster, and with less concentration.

Re: The Aire Below
Posted by: Linda (
Date: February 20, 2005 09:59AM

Just found this in Kenneth Baker's English History in Verse

The smoke of their foul dens
Broodeth on Thy Earth as a black pestilence,
Hiding the kind day's eye. No flower, no grass there groweth,
Only their engines' dung which the fierce furnace throweth.
Their presence poisoneth all and maketh all unclean.
Thy streams they have made sewers for their dyes analine.
No fish therein may swim, no frog, no worm, may crawl,
No snail for grime may build her house within their wall.

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt - Satan Absolved.

I've tried googling and only found that it was published in 1899. Can anyone (Les?) find a full text on-line? I never seem able to google exactly the terms to give the most useful results.

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