« ElőzőTovább »
the sun were dropping down with the tide; English and French men-of-war lay anchored in the bay; and the strange American river steam-boats, which look as though in an access of sea sickness they had thrown their cabins inside out and turned their engines upside down, glided around us in every direction. So we steamed slowly on, till the island city-a sort of Venice without canals lay before us, half hidden by the forest of masts which girds its shores, like a palisade, and we were on land at last.
It is not my purpose to describe New York, or its sights and curiosities. The description has been given a dozen times before, and probably better than I could do it. Then, too, New York, like all American cities, has one peculiarity, not altogether unpleasing to a somewhat “ blasé” sightseer; and that is, that it has no sights to see. I believe there is à gallery somewhere in the city, and a public building or two which are supposed to possess architectural merits. There is the Croton aqueduct also, which is interesting to engineers. But I have not seen these sights, and have no intention of describing them ; still less of visiting them. It is the social state of New York—the real capital of the United States—about which I have sought to pick up what information it has lain in my power to reach, and about which, I believe, the readers of Macmillan will feel much interest. I do not profess to give a complete and detailed account of the manners, politics, society, and religion of New York, done in three weeks' time; but even in twentyone days, if you have your eyes about you and keep your ears open, you may learn a good deal worth learning; and it is the result of these impressions of mine-—fugitive and disjointed, as they inevitably are—that I wish to convey to you.
First, however, let me say something about the outward look of the city. New York is not a show place, and has, architecturally, but little claim to distinction. The plan of the city is wonderfully simple; and it is this that makes the
which seems so barbarous to us in Europe, of such great practical convenience. If you suppose that the skeleton of a sole had a number of cross-bones parallel to the back-bone, you will have an exact idea of the plan of New York. The back-bone is the Broadway; the parallel cross-bones are the Avenues; and the bones at right angles to the back-bone are the Streets, numbered consecutively from the sole's mouth. The system is not perfect, because the streets in the old part of the city have names of their own; but still it is sufficiently so to enable any one to tell, given the name of a street, whereabouts it is situated. The lower end of the island, corresponding to the sole's mouth, is the commercial part, the "city" of New York. Broadway is the great thoroughfare, where all the chief stores and shops are situated; and Fifth Avenue, with the streets running across it, is the fashionable quarter—the “Belgravia" of the town. Across the middle of the island stretches the Central Park; and beyond that, towards the tail of the sole, are long straggling suburbs, which threaten, in ten years' time, if New York were to grow at its present rate, to cover the whole island of Manhattan. So much for the topography of New York. Its general effect is to me disappointing. Simple size is never very striking to any one accustomed to London ; and, except in size, there is little to strike you here. Broadway is, or, rather, ought to be, a very fine street; and the single stores are as handsome as anything can be in the way of the shop-front order of architecture. But a marble-faced palace of six stories high has a cast-iron store with card-paper looking pillars on one side, and a two storied red brick house on the other. There is no symmetry or harmony about the street; and, when I heard a candid Yankee describe it as “a 'onehorse' Boulevarde," I thought he had produced a description which could not be improved upon. Fifth Avenue is symmetrical enough—but its semi-detached stone mansions, handsome as they are, lack sufficient height to give grandeur dreadful. The other fashionable streets are inferior editions of the Fifth Avenue, and impress me, as our own districts of Tyburnia and Belgravia always do, with two reflections—firstly, what an enormous amount of wealth there must be in a country where such vast numbers of people can afford to live in such houses; and, secondly, how little artistic taste there must be, where people with such incomes consent to live in houses of such architectural unattractiveness. The poorer streets, along the banks of the island, have no architectural pretensions, and bear a strong family resemblance to the Walworth Road or to Mile End Gate. The churches, with their tall taper steeples, relieve the uniformity of the city ; but, like all our modern style of ecclesiastical architecture, they are not vast enough to be imposing. In fact, if you could transpose New York to England, it would be, externally, as uninteresting a city as Manchester. But here, in this bright clear air, there is a sort of French sparkle about the place which enlivens it strangely.
It is indoors, however, not out of doors, that the charm of New York is found. There is not much of luxury, in the French sense of the word-no lavish display of mirrors, and clocks, and pictures ; but there is more comfort, more English luxury, about the dwelling-houses than I ever saw in England. All the domestic arrangements (to use a fine word for grog, hot water, &c.) are wonderfully perfect. Everything, even more than in England, seems adapted for a home life. From the severity of the winters, there can be little out-of-door life at this season of the year; but, under any circumstances, there appears to be not much of public life. For this reason, New York must be a dull place to a stranger without acquaintances. There are no cafés; and the nearest approach to them, the hotel bar-rooms, are not places where you can sit down, or find any amusement except that of drinking So, in the hotels themselves, there is less society than I had expected from the accounts of other travellers. The public sitting-rooms appear to be little used,
except to receive visitors; and at the table d'hôte there is an absence of general conversation, compared with a continental one. It is very contrary to English notions that a family should take up their residence at an hotel at all; but, granted this fact, American families live in an hotel much on the same footing as English ones would do under like circumstances--that is, they keep themselves to themselves, and see but little of their next-door neighbours.
But, in truth, everything here is so different from what one would expect it to be in theory. Under a democratic republic, where practically the suffrage is universal, one would expect that in all social matters the convenience and interests of the individual would be sacrificed to those of the public. The very contrary is the case. The principle of vested rights—the power of every individual to consult his own inclination, in defiance of his neighbour's convenience-is carried here to a perfect absurdity. Anybody may build his house after his own fancy, in total disregard of the architectural style of the houses by which it is surrounded. Anybody may stop his cart or carriage where he likes ; and so I have seen Wall Street, in its busiest hours, blocked up by a stoppage, caused by some brewer's dray, which chose to stand still at the side of the narrow street. Anybody has a right to get into the cars or omnibuses, as long as he can squeeze his way in; and so the cars—in themselves the most comfortable conveyances I ever travelled in-are rendered at times almost insufferable, by the fact that the space between the seats is filled by extra passengers, standing on, or in dangerous proximity to, the toes of the seated travellers. The illustration, however, of this feeling, which most strikes a stranger, is the state of the public streets. It has been my fortune, or misfortune, in life, to ride over a good number of bad roads ; but no road I have come across is to compare with Broadway during the late snows. When it froze hard at night, the street was a succession of Montagnes Russes, up and down which the carriages slide wildly. Over the pavement lay a coating of some three or four feet of snow, indented with holes, and furrows, and ridges, of most alarming magnitude. Whenever there was a temporary thaw, this mass of ice and snow became a pond of slush-a very slough of despond. Without exaggeration, crossing the main streets was a work of danger. Falls of foot-passengers were things of constant occurrence, while the struggles of the horses to drag the carriages out of the ruts were really painful to witness. I believe the state of the streets was some what worse than usual this winter; but every year there is more or less of this sort of thing. The one cause of all this obstruction is that the contractor, who has undertaken to keep the streets clear, has failed to fulfil the spirit, if not the letter of his contract. Everybody grumbles—just as we do in London, when a gas company stops up the Strand for the sake of tinkering its pipes; but nobody proposes to interfere and insist on the nuisance being removed. The vested right of the individual contractor overrides the convenience of the public.
Another popular delusion too, in England, is, that New York is a sort of gingerbread and gilt city, and that, contrasted with an English city, there is a want of solidity about the place, materially as well as morally. On the contrary, I was never in a town where, externally, at any rate, show was so much sacrificed to solid comfort. The ferries, the cars, the railroads, and the houses are all arranged so as to give one substantial comfort without external decoration. As long as a contrivance serves its purpose, little care seems to be felt about how it looks. To economize labour and to avoid unnecessary outlay are the great objects of all American contrivances. It is indeed to this cause, more than to any abstract feeling of republican equality, that I attribute the absence of private cars on the railroads. The large public carriages carry as many passengers as three of our railroad carriages would do; and, with the bad
engines of the American lines, such an advantage is of immense importance. In the same way, nobody attributes the absence of cabs in New York to any democratic objection to the use of private vehicles. The simple fact is that cabs do not pay, because the elaborate system of omnibuses and cars conveys pas. sengers practically to all parts of the city, and the public does not care about paying extra for privacy.
Undoubtedly, out of doors, you see evidences of a public equality, or rather absence of inequality, among all classes, which cannot fail to strike an inhabitant of the Old World. In the street, the man in the hat and broadcloth coat, and the man in corduroys and jacket out at elbows, never get out of each other's way, or expect the other to make way for him. In the cars, ladies and washerwomen, working men and gentlemen, sit hustled together without the slightest sense of incongruity. In the shops, and from the servants, you meet with perfect civility, but with civility as to an equal, not to a superior. In the bar rooms, there is no distinction of customers; and, as long as you pay your way, and behave quietly, you are welcome, whatever your dress may be. No doubt, the cause of this general equality is the absence of the class brutalized by poverty, which you see in our great cities. There is a great deal of poverty in New York, and the Five Points quarter--the Seven Dials of the cityis, especially on a bitter winter's day, as miserable a haunt of vice and misery as it was ever my lot to witness in the Old World. Still, compared with the size of New York, this quarter is a very small one, and poverty here, bad as it is, is not hopeless poverty. The fleeting population of the “Five Points” is composed of the lowest and most shiftless of the foreign emigrants; and, in the course of a few years, they, or at any rate their children, move to other quarters, and become prosperous and respectable. There is, for an AngloSaxon population, very little drunkenness visible in the streets of New York ; vice, it is not for an Englishman to speak severely. In the low quarters of the town, the “ Lager Bier” saloons, with their windows crowded with wretched half-dressed women, are about the most shameless exhibition of open vice I have ever come across, even in England or Holland ; and I am glad to say, that at last, under a republican, as opposed to a democratic legislature, the State government are taking means to suppress this public nuisance. But in the streets at night there are few of the scenes which habitually disgrace our own metropolis. From all these causes, and from the universal diffusion of education, there is no such thing, in our English sense of the word, as a mob in New York. The great order and quiet of the city is in itself remarkable. There are no soldiers about, as in a continental capital ; and the policemen-nearly as fine a body of men, by the way, as our London Policeappear to devote their energies to keep ing Broadway from being utterly jammed up by carts, and to helping ladies across that most treacherous of thoroughfares. The people seem instinctly to keep themselves in order. On only one occasion have I seen a crowd in New York, and that was on the occasion of a fire. It was towards midday, and, to my surprise, every clock in and about Wall Street, down which I was passing, began striking six slowly and solemnly, like our passing-bell in a country parish. I inquired the meaning of the circumstance from a passer-by, and was told it was the signal that a fire had broken out in the Sixth Ward. I turned in the direction pointed out, and soon & fire-engine rumbled past me, dragged by a string of men and boys, over the broken, uneven ground. Then in a few minutes more another, and another; and, by the time I had reached the scene of the fire, not a quarter of a mile off, half a dozen engines were at work, though I had heard the first signal given but a few minutes before. A store filled with kerozene oil had caught fire accidentally, and the volumes of flame, which shot out of the roof and windows, seemed to
destruction. But the engines were too hard at work to give the fire a chance; the river lay fortunately near at hand, and there was a perfect crowd of volunteers ready to work the pumps with might and main. There was nobody to keep the dense throng of spectators, which crammed the streets, in order; but of themselves they obeyed the instructions of the firemen, and made way readily whenever space was required for the engines or the pipes to pass. The firemen themselves worked with a will, and were utterly regardless of danger. Some were dragging the waterpipes right under the walls of the burning house, which looked, every moment, as if they were going to fall; others were standing on the parapet of the flaming roof, hanging over the street in a way that made one dizzy to look at, and shouting out orders to the men below; others, again, were perched on ladders fixed against the house on fire, and cutting down the shutters with axes, in order to let out the flames. It was a service of real danger, and one poor fellow lost his life by falling from an engine; but one and all of these firemen were volunteers, who expected nothing for their services. The fire-engines are supplied by the State, and the whole expense and labour of the service are borne by the men themselves. At every enginehouse a certain number of the men always remain, turn and turn about, in readiness; and, the moment the signalbell is heard over the city, the members of the company leave their homes and their business, whatever it may be, to perform their duty as firemen. I have seen great fires in many European countries, but I never saw a fire extinguished 80 promptly, or so courageously, as by these volunteer firemen; and it would take a good deal of evidence to convince me that a city in which such an organization exists as that of the New York firemen can be demoralized by the lawlessness of an ignorant democracy.
It strikes me, however, that I have been describing what New York is not,
the former is so much easier than the but now the show time of the war latter. If I were a French traveller, has passed away, and it has become a there would be a hundred things and matter of sober business. In many a phases of life here which would strike house that I have been into, I have me as abnormal ; but to me everything found the ladies busy in working for the seems so provokingly like home, that I army, as our ladies used to do in Crimean am obliged to resort to the old Cæsar days; but there is little talk or fuss made and Pompey story, and say that England about it. There are few balls or large and America are very much alike, espe- parties this season, and the opera is not cially America. Statistics tell you that regularly open-partly because public over one half of the population of New feeling is against much gaiety; partly, York was born out of America ; but and still more, because the wealthy somehow the strong Anglo-Saxon kine classes have retrenched all superfluous seem to have swallowed up the lean expenditure, with a really wonderful foreign kine so completely that little unanimity. There is no want, however, trace is left of their existence. There of public amusements. On a fine day, are quarters in the town which Irish, the number of richly equipped sleighs French, and Germans, more especially you meet in every street is something frequent; but Ratcliffe Highway is more astonishing, while, on Sunday, the whole Irish, Whitechapel is more German, and population of the city seemed to drive Leicester Square is more French, than out in sleighs to the skating on the any corresponding district in New York. Central Park. There is, no doubt, a The German population evidently re- great deal of mercantile distress, and tains the strongest individuality of any the shopkeepers who depend on the foreign class; and the fancy for bright sale of luxuries to the wealthy classes unharmonious colours, so common here are in a poor way; but work is plentiamong the women of the lower classes, ful, and the distress, as yet, has not coupled with the custom of wearing gone deep down. Be the cause what it knitted woollen caps, instead of bonnets, may, there is less appearance of distress gives rather a German look to the people at this moment visible in New York in the poorer streets. There are several than there has been for some months German theatres, too, in the city ; but past in Salford or Manchester. the Germans have tried in vain to ob Of course, the present is not a very tain leave to open them on Sunday; and, favourable time for seeing American indeed, the dulness of New York on society in its gayest aspect; and, with Sunday is so unmistakeably British that almost morbid anxiety which Amethat it is hard to persuade oneself one is ricans seem to feel about the opinion not in London or Glasgow
formed by foreigners as to their country, Very English, too, to my mind, is the a regret is often expressed to me that I alusence of external excitement about should see society here under so dull an the war. The papers are full of nothing aspect. Not so much from the letters else. In society it is the one topic of of introduction which I brought, and still thought and conversation. If you hear less from any merits of my own, but rather two people talking in the street, or at from a kind of innate civility, I have the church door as you come out from been received, as I believe any other service, you will be sure to find they educated Englishman would be, with a are speaking of the war. Still, with all hospitable kindness of which I cannot this, the daily life goes on with little speak too warmly. Shades of manner change. I have seen regiments marching and expression and intonation are things through the streets, on their way to the about which it is very difficult to lay down seat of war, and only a few idlers were any rule as to what is right or wrong. gathered to see them pass. Months ago, The Americans consider that they speak when the war first began, the same sight English better and more distinctly than