Remember, you read it here first -- centuries ago

Thu Jun 18, 2009 9:58am EDT
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By Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Think the heinous crimes, disastrous wars and seemingly never-ending financial scandals of recent years are something new? Then think again.

Courtesy of the British Library, readers can now immerse themselves in vivid newspaper accounts of a 19th Century society that appears to have changed little from today's chaotic world.

Evocative descriptions of children as young as nine smoking and getting drunk, a banking collapse in 1878 and first-hand reports of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 can all be pored over for free online.

Some of the period's most celebrated authors, Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray are also represented, as is one of its most infamous villains: Jack the Ripper.

The digital archive, made available for the first time, comprises more than two million pages of 49 national and regional newspapers dating back to 1800.

Then as now, public drunkenness was often a problem, with sunshine and public holidays triggering a rise in public disorder.

Under the headline "Whit Monday and Drunkenness," The Penny Illustrated of 1874 reported: "In the afternoon and evening it was impossible to walk along the streets of London without meeting drunken men -- many of them inclined to be violent and disorderly."

Children who have been labeled feral and antisocial in the press today, appeared to display the some of the same characteristics more than 100 years ago.   Continued...