The sewer is the resting-place of all failure and all effort. To political economy it is a detritus, and to social philosophy a residue. It is the conscience of the town where all things converge and clash. There is darkness here, but no secrets. Everything has its true or at least its definitive form. There is this to be said about the muck-heap, that it does not lie. Innocence dwells in it. Every foulness of civilization, fallen into disuse, sinks into that ditch of truth wherein ends the huge social down-slide, to be swallowed, but to spread. It is a vast confusion. No false appearance, no white-washing is possible; filth strips off its shirt in utter starkness, and all illusions and mirages scattered, nothing left except what is, showing the ugly face of what ends. Reality and disappearance; here, a bottle-neck proclaims drunkenness, a basket-handle tells of home life; and there the apple-core that had literary opinions again becomes an apple-core. That which was painted is besmeared. The last veil is stripped away.
A sewer is a cynic. This sincerity of filth pleases us and soothes the spirit. When one has spent one’s time on earth suffering the windy outpourings which calls themselves statesmanship, political wisdom, human justice, professional probity, the robes of incorruptibility, it is soothing to go into the sewer and see the mire which is appropriate to all of this. And at the same time it teaches us. As we have said, history flows through the sewer. The great assassinations, the political and religious butcheries, pass through that underworld of civilization with their bodies. To the thoughtful eye, all the murderers of history are there on their knees in that hideous penumbra, with a fragment of shroud for their apron, sadly washing out their offence. One may hear the swish of spectral brooms and breathe the huge miasma of social catastrophe and see red reflections in the corners. A terrible water flows that has washed bloodstained hands.