On this day in 1810, the Berners Street hoax was perpetrated. Theodore Hook made a bet with his friend Samuel Beazley that he could make any house in London the most talked about within a week. He did this by sending out thousands of letters to people asking for different services. So, for example, a dozen chimney sweeps showed up. There were also doctors and priests and lawyers. There were also various deliveries of pianos and so on. It got so bad that the police had to be called in to disperse people and keep them away from the house.
Hook was just 22 years old and I suppose can be forgiven. He did, of course, great harm to a lot of hard working people. I hardly worry about doctors and lawyers. But chimney sweeps? It is the kind of prank that only someone of a fair amount of privilege would do. Others would be too busy trying to get by. At the same time, the Romantics, despite being often quite silly in their ways, were at least concerned about more important issues.
There was some search made for the perpetrator of the crime, but clearly not too much effort was put into it. I suspect it was understood that anyone able to perpetrate that costly a hoax would be reasonably well protected. I don’t miss the amusing aspects of the prank. At the same time, I have a hard time not seeing it from the perspective of class. This was not long after the French Revolution when people like Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft were seriously discussing how to improve the world. And young Mr Hook was just causing the 19th century equivalent to a traffic jam.