There were the stone gallery, he said, and the whispering gallery, the geometrical staircase, the room of models, the clock - the clock being quite in my way, I stopped him there, and chose that sight from all the rest.
I groped my way into the Turret which it occupies, and saw before me, in a kind of loft, what seemed to be a great, old oaken press with folding doors. These being thrown back by the attendant (who was sleeping when I came upon him, and looked a drowsy fellow, as though his close companionship with Time had made him quite indifferent to it), disclosed a complicated crowd of wheels and chains in iron and brass, - great, sturdy, rattling engines, - suggestive of breaking a finger put in here or there, and grinding the bone to powder, - and these were the Clock! Its very pulse, if I may use the word, was like no other clock. It did not mark the flight of every moment with a gentle second stroke, as though it would check old Time, and have him stay his pace in pity, but measured it with one sledge-hammer beat, as if its business were to crush the seconds as they came trooping on, and remorselessly to clear a path before the Day of Judgment.
I sat down opposite to it, and hearing its regular and never- changing voice, that one deep constant note, uppermost amongst all the noise and clatter in the streets below, - marking that, let that tumult rise or fall, go on or stop, - let it be night or noon, to-morrow or to-day, this year or next, - it still performed its functions with the same dull constancy, and regulated the progress of the life around, the fancy came upon me that this was London's Heart, - and that when it should cease to beat, the City would be no more.
It is night. Calm and unmoved amidst the scenes that darkness favours, the great heart of London throbs in its Giant breast. Wealth and beggary, vice and virtue, guilt and innocence, repletion and the direst hunger, all treading on each other and crowding together, are gathered round it. Draw but a little circle above the clustering housetops, and you shall have within its space everything, with its opposite extreme and contradiction, close beside. Where yonder feeble light is shining, a man is but this moment dead. The taper at a few yards' distance is seen by eyes that have this instant opened on the world. There are two houses separated by but an inch or two of wall. In one, there are quiet minds at rest; in the other, a waking conscience that one might think would trouble the very air. In that close corner where the roofs shrink down and cower together as if to hide their secrets from the handsome street hard by, there are such dark crimes, such miseries and horrors, as could be hardly told in whispers. In the handsome street, there are folks asleep who have dwelt there all their lives, and have no more knowledge of these things than if they had never been, or were transacted at the remotest limits of the world, - who, if they were hinted at, would shake their heads, look wise, and frown, and say they were impossible, and out of Nature, - as if all great towns were not. Does not this Heart of London, that nothing moves, nor stops, nor quickens, - that goes on the same let what will be done, does it not express the City's character well?
The day begins to break, and soon there is the hum and noise of life.