Joanna Richardson describes how, during the 1830s, the world of Bohemia offered a warm and fruitful climate to artists and writers.
Henry Murger, the author of La Vie de Bohème, said that the real Bohemian could exist only in Paris; and the observation was true. Nineteenth-century England produced eccentrics like Edward Fitzgerald and Ouida, aesthetes like the Rossettis and William Morris, socially unorthodox writers like Swinburne and Wilde; but such Bohemian figures seem to have been exceptional. There was no sense of a Bohemian movement; and there was no Bohemian colony. As Andrew Lang observed: ‘England has never combined the university with the capital, nor fixed so wide a gulf between two classes of men of letters.’ The English undergraduate in the nineteenth century came, almost certainly, from the upper or middle classes; and he did not know the poverty of the student on the Left Bank. He might be unorthodox in his creeds, extravagant in his behaviour; but he would not lead a tavern life. He would not live on a crust of bread with a sempstress in an attic.