London is now the most English of cities. There is nothing more peculiarly English than Cockney humour and Cockney speech.
But through those early centuries, when England had more to receive from Europe than to give, her strength and influence consisted largely in being a cosmopolitan city. In the saying that sooner or later you will meet every one at Charing Cross is contained a large part of her history.
The power and influence of foreigners in London, often with special privileges of their own, continued for many centuries. After those unnamed merchants mentioned by Tacitus there were men of many races who came to London, and lived there, and controlled her trade.
The Germans as early as the tenth century had that trade largely in their hands, and in the days of the Hansa League were more powerful in London than in any of the other ports of Northern Europe. They held their privileges there until the reign of Elizabeth.
The men of Rouen were given the port of Dowgate by Edward the Confessor. The Lombards, who were the financiers of Europe in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and lent much money - not always repaid - to the Plantagenet kings.
At that time, when, in the words of the historian of the English Constitution, London "acted constantly as the purse, and sometimes as the brain of England," a large number of the names of the citizens which have come down to us are foreign.
It is not unfitting that that beautiful description in "The Mirror of the Sea" of London's river, of the romance and mystery of its approach from the sea, was written, not by an Englishman, but by one of the latest of the great foreigners who have come up it to discover London.Next page: Wealth and Power