Part 2 out of 5
like to be, if the firm consents."
"Oh!" I said.
I did not like the look of it in the least. Too young,--too young. Has
not taken any position yet. No right to ask for the hand of Bilyuns
Brothers & Co.'s daughter. Besides, it will spoil him for practice, if
he marries a rich girl before he has formed habits of work.
I looked in at his office the next day. A box of white kids was lying
open on the table. A three-cornered note, directed in a very delicate
lady's-hand, was distinguishable among a heap of papers. I was just
going to call him to account for his proceedings, when he pushed
the three-cornered note aside and took up a letter with a great
corporation-seal upon it. He had received the offer of a professor's
chair in an ancient and distinguished institution.
"Pretty well for three-and-twenty, my boy," I said. "I suppose you'll
think you must be married one of these days, if you accept this office."
Mr. Langdon blushed.--There had been stories about him, he knew. His
name had been mentioned in connection with that of a very charming young
lady. The current reports were not true. He had met this young lady,
and been much pleased with her, in the country, at the house of her
grandfather, the Reverend Doctor Honeywood,--you remember Miss Letitia
Forester, whom I have mentioned repeatedly? On coming to town, he found
his country-acquaintance in a social position which seemed to discourage
his continued intimacy. He had discovered, however, that he was a not
unwelcome visitor, and had kept up friendly relations with her. But
there was no truth in the current reports,--none at all.
Some months had passed, after this visit, when I happened one evening to
stroll into a box in one of the principal theatres of the city. A small
party sat on the seats before me: a middle-aged gentleman and his lady,
in front, and directly behind them my young doctor and the same very
handsome young lady I had seen him walking with on the side-walk before
the swell-fronts and south-exposures. As Professor Langdon seemed to be
very much taken up with his companion, and both of them looked as if
they were enjoying themselves, I determined not to make my presence
known to my young friend, and to withdraw quietly after feasting my eyes
with the sight of them for a few minutes.
"It looks as if something might come of it," I said to myself.
At that moment the young lady lifted her arm accidentally, in such a way
that the light fell upon the clasp of a chain which encircled her wrist.
My eyes filled with tears as I read upon the clasp, in sharp-cut Italic
letters, _E.V._ They were tears at once of sad remembrance and of joyous
anticipation; for the ornament on which I looked was the double
pledge of a dead sorrow and a living affection. It was the golden
bracelet,--the parting-gift of Elsie Venner.
* * * * *
I stood on the brink in childhood,
And watched the bubbles go
From the rock-fretted sunny ripple
To the smoother lymph below;
And over the white creek-bottom,
Under them every one,
Went golden stars in the water,
All luminous with the sun.
But the bubbles brake on the surface,
And under, the stars of gold
Brake, and the hurrying water
Flowed onward, swift and cold.
I stood on the brink in manhood,
And it came to my weary heart,--
In my breast so dull and heavy,
After the years of smart,--
That every hollowest bubble
Which over my life had passed
Still into its deeper current
Some sky-sweet gleam had cast;
That, however I mocked it gayly,
And guessed at its hollowness,
Still shone, with each bursting bubble,
One star in my soul the less.
CITIES AND PARKS:
WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE NEW YORK CENTRAL PARK.
The first murderer was the first city-builder; and a good deal of
murdering has been carried on in the interest of city-building ever
since Cain's day. Narrow and crooked streets, want of proper sewerage
and ventilation, the absence of forethought in providing open spaces for
the recreation of the people, the allowance of intramural burials,
and of fetid nuisances, such as slaughter-houses and manufactories of
offensive stuffs, have converted cities into pestilential inclosures,
and kept Jefferson's saying--"Great cities are great sores"--true in its
most literal and mortifying sense.
There is some excuse for the crowded and irregular character of
Old-World cities. They grew, and were not builded. Accumulations
of people, who lighted like bees upon a chance branch, they found
themselves hived in obdurate brick and mortar before they knew it; and
then, to meet the necessities of their cribbed, cabined, and confined
condition, they must tear down sacred landmarks, sacrifice invaluable
possessions, and trample on prescriptive rights, to provide
breathing-room for their gasping population. Besides, air, water, light,
and cleanliness are modern innovations. The nose seems to have acquired
its sensitiveness within a hundred years,--the lungs their objection to
foul air, and the palate its disgust at ditch-water like the Thames,
within a more recent period. Honestly dirty, and robustly indifferent to
what mortally offends our squeamish senses, our happy ancestors fattened
on carbonic acid gas, and took the exhalations of graveyards and gutters
with a placidity of stomach that excites our physiological admiration.
If they died, it was not for want of air. The pestilence carried, them
off,--and that was a providential enemy, whose home-bred origin nobody
It must seem to foreigners of all things the strangest, that, in a
country where land is sold at one dollar and twenty-five cents the acre
by the square mile, there should in any considerable part of it be a
want of room,--any necessity for crowding the population into pent-up
cities,--any narrowness of streets, or want of commons and parks. And
yet it is an undeniable truth that our American cities are all suffering
the want of ample thoroughfares, destitute of adequate parks and
commons, and too much crowded for health, convenience, or beauty. Boston
has for its main street a serpentine lane, wide enough to drive the cows
home from their pastures, but totally and almost fatally inadequate
to be the great artery of a city of two hundred thousand people.
Philadelphia is little better off with her narrow Chestnut Street,
which purchases what accommodation it affords by admitting the parallel
streets to nearly equal use, and thus sacrificing the very idea of a
metropolitan thoroughfare, in which the splendor and motion and life
of a metropolis ought to be concentrated. New York succeeds in making
Broadway what the Toledo, the Strand, the Linden Strasse, the Italian
Boulevards are; but the street is notoriously blocked and confused, and
occasions more loss of time and temper and life and limb than would
amply repay, once in five years, the widening of it to double its
It is a great misfortune, that our commercial metropolis, the
predestined home of five millions of people, should not have a single
street worthy of the population, the wealth, the architectural ambition
ready to fill and adorn it. Wholesale trade, bankers, brokers, and
lawyers seek narrow streets. There must be swift communication between
the opposite sides, and easy recognition of faces across the way. But
retail trade requires no such conditions. The passers up and down on
opposite sides of Broadway are as if in different streets, and neither
expect to recognize each other nor to pass from one to the other without
set effort. It took a good while to make Broad and Canal Streets
attractive business-streets, and to get the importers and jobbers out
of Pearl Street; but the work is now done. The Bowery affords the only
remaining chance of building a magnificent metropolitan thoroughfare in
New York; and we anticipate the day--when Broadway will surrender its
pretensions to that now modest Cheapside. Already, about the confluence
of the Third and Fourth Avenues at Eighth Street are congregated some
of the chief institutions of the city,--the Bible House, the Cooper
Institute, the Astor Library, the Mercantile Library. Farther down,
the continuation of Canal Street affords the most commanding sites for
future public edifices; while the neighborhoods of Franklin and Chatham
Squares ought to be seized upon to embellish the city at imperial points
with its finest architectural piles. The capacities of New York, below
Union Square, for metropolitan splendor are entirely undeveloped; the
best points are still occupied by comparatively worthless buildings, and
the future will produce a now unlooked-for change in the whole character
of that great district.
The huddling together of our American cities is due to the recentness
of the time when space was our greatest enemy and sparseness our chief
discouragement. Our founders hated room as much as a backwoods farmer
hates trees. The protecting walls, which narrowed the ways and cramped
the houses of the Old-World cities, did not put a severer compress
upon them, than the disgust of solitude and the craving for "the sweet
security of streets" threw about our city-builders. In the Western towns
now, they carefully give a city air to their villages by crowding the
few stores and houses of which they are composed into the likeliest
appearance of an absolute scarcity of space.
They labor unconsciously to look crowded, and would sooner go into a
cellar to eat their oysters than have them in the finest saloon above
ground. And so, if a peninsula like Boston, or a miniature Mesopotamia
like New York, or a basin like Cincinnati, could be found to tuck away
a town in, in which there was a decent chance of covering over the
nakedness of the land within a thousand years, they rejoiced to seize
on it and warm their shivering imaginations in the idea of the possible
snugness which their distant posterity might enjoy.
Boston owes its only park worth naming--the celebrated Common--to
the necessity of leaving a convenient cow-pasture for the babes and
sucklings of that now mature community. Forty acres were certainly
never more fortunately situated for their predestined service, nor more
providentially rescued for the higher uses of man. May the memory of the
weaning babes who pleaded for the spot where their "milky mothers" fed
be ever sacred in our Athens, and may the cows of Boston be embalmed
with the bulls of Egypt! A white heifer should be perpetually grazing,
at her tether, in the shadow of the Great Elm. Would it be wholly
unbecoming one born in full view of that lovely inclosure to suggest
that the straightness of the lines in which the trees are planted on
Boston Common, and the rapidly increasing thickness of their foliage,
destroy in the summer season the effect of breadth and liberty, hide
both the immediate and the distant landscape, stifle the breeze, and
diminish the attractiveness of the spot? Fewer trees, scattered in
clumps and paying little regard to paths, would vastly improve the
effect. The colonnades of the malls furnish all the shade desirable in
so small an inclosure.
For the most part, the proper laying-out of cities is both a matter of
greater ease and greater importance in America than anywhere else. We
are much in the condition of those old Scriptural worthies, of whom it
could be so coolly said, "So he went and built a city," as if it were
a matter of not much greater account than "So be went and built a
log-house." Very likely some of those Biblical cities, extemporized
so tersely, were not much more finished than those we now and then
encounter in our Western and Southern tours, where a poor shed at four
cross-roads is dignified with the title. We believe it was Samuel
Dexter, the pattern of Webster, who, on hanging out his shingle in a
New England village, where a tavern, a schoolhouse, a church, and a
blacksmith's shop constituted the whole settlement, gave as a reason,
that, having to break into the world somewhere, he had chosen the
weakest place. He would have tried a new Western city, had they then
been in fashion, as a still softer spot in the social crust. But this
rage for cities in America is prophetic. The name is a spell; and most
of the sites, surveyed and distributed into town-lots with squares and
parks staked out, are only a century before their time, and will redound
to the future credit, however fatal to the immediate cash of their
projectors. Who can doubt that Cairo of Illinois--the standing joke of
tourists, (and the standing-water of the Ohio and Mississippi,) though
no joke to its founders--will one day rival its Egyptian prototype?
America runs to cities, and particularly in its Northern latitudes.
As cities have been the nurses of democratic institutions and ideas,
democratic nations, for very obvious reasons, tend to produce them. They
are the natural fruits of a democracy. And with no people are great
cities so important, or likely to be so increasingly populous, as with
a great agricultural and commercial nation like our own, covered with
a free and equal population. The vast wealth of such a people, evenly
distributed, and prevented from over-accumulation in special families by
the absence of primogeniture and entail,--their general education
and refined tastes,--the intense community of ideas, through the
all-pervading influence of a daily press reaching with simultaneous
diffusion over thousands of square miles,--the facilities of
locomotion,--all inevitably cooperate with commercial necessities to
create great cities,--not merely as the homes of the mercantile and
wealthy class, but as centres where the leisure, the tastes, the
pride, and the wants of the people at large repair more and more for
satisfaction. Free populations, educated in public schools and with an
open career for all, soon instinctively settle the high economies of
Many observers have ascribed the rapid change which for twenty years
past has been going on in the relative character of towns and villages
on the one hand, and cities on the other, to the mere operation of the
railroad-system. But that system itself grew out of higher instincts.
Equal communities demand equal privileges and advantages. They tend
to produce a common level. The country does not acquiesce in the
superiority of the city in manners, comforts, or luxuries. It demands
a market at its door,--first-rate men for its advisers in all medical,
legal, moral, and political matters. It demands for itself the
amusements, the refinements, the privileges of the city. This is to
be brought about only by the application, at any cost, of the most
immediate methods of communication with the city; and behold our
railroad system,--the Briarean shaking of hands which the country gives
the city! The growth of this system is a curious commentary on the
purely mercenary policy which is ordinarily supposed to govern the
investments of capital. The railroads of the United States are as much
the products of social rivalries and the fruits of an ineradicable
democratic instinct for popularizing all advantages, as of any
commercial emulation. The people have willingly bandaged their own eyes,
and allowed themselves to believe a profitable investment was made,
because their inclinations were so determined to have the roads,
profitable or not. Their wives and daughters _would_ shop in the city;
the choicest sights and sounds were there; there concentrated themselves
the intellectual and moral lights; there were the representative
splendors of the state or nation;--and a swift access to them was
essential to true equality and self-respect.
One does not need to be a graybeard to recall the time when every
county-town in New England had, because it needs must have, its
first rate lawyer, its distinguished surgeon, its comprehensive
business-man,--and when a fixed and unchanging population gave to our
villages a more solid and a more elegant air than they now possess. The
Connecticut river-villages, with a considerable increase in population,
and a vast improvement in the general character of the dwellings, have
nevertheless lost their most characterizing features,--the large and
dignified residences of their founders, and the presence of the once
able and widely known men that were identified with their local
importance and pride. The railroads have concentrated the ability of all
the professions in the cities, and carried thither the wealth of all the
old families. To them, and not to the county-town, repair the people for
advice in all critical matters, for supplies in all important purchases,
for all their rarest pleasures, and all their most prized and memorable
Cities, and the immediate neighborhood of cities, are rapidly becoming
the chosen residences of the enterprising, successful, and intelligent.
As might be supposed, the movement works both ways: the locomotive
facilities carry citizens into the country, as well as countrymen into
the city. But those who have once tasted the city are never wholly
weaned from it, and every citizen who moves into a village-community
sends two countrymen back to take his place. He infects the country with
civic tastes, and acts as a great conductor between the town and the
country. It is apparent, too, that the experience of ten years, during
which some strong reaction upon the centripetal tendencies of the
previous ten years drove many of the wealthy and the self-supposed
lovers of quietude and space into the country, has dispersed several
very natural prejudices, and returned the larger part of the truants
to their original ways. One of these prejudices was, that our ordinary
Northern climate was as favorable to the outdoor habits of the leisurely
class as the English climate; whereas, besides not having a leisurely
class, and never being destined to have any, under our wise
wealth-distributing customs, and not having any out-door habits, which
grow up only on estates and on hereditary fortunes, experience has
convinced most who have tried it that we have only six months when
out-of-doors allows any comfort, health, or pleasure away from the city.
The roads are sloughs; side-walks are wanting; shelter is gone with the
leaves; non-intercourse is proclaimed; companionship cannot be found;
leisure is a drug; books grow stupid; the country is a stupendous bore.
Another prejudice was the anticipated economy of the country. This has
turned out to be, as might have been expected, an economy to those who
fall in with its ways, which citizens are wholly inapt and unprepared to
do. It is very economical not to want city comforts and conveniences.
But it proves more expensive to those who go into the country to want
them there than it did to have them where they abound. They are not to
be had in the country at any price,--water, gas, fuel, food, attendance,
amusement, locomotion in all weathers; but such a moderate measure of
them as a city-bred family cannot live without involves so great an
expense, that the expected economy of life in the country to those not
actually brought up there turns out a delusion. The expensiveness of
life in the city comes of the generous and grand scale on which it there
proceeds, not from the superior cost of the necessaries or comforts of
life. They are undoubtedly cheaper in the city, all things considered,
than anywhere in the country. Where everything is to be had, in the
smallest or the largest quantities,--where every form of service can be
commanded at a moment's notice,--where the wit, skill, competition of a
country are concentrated upon the furnishing of all commodities at the
most taking rates,--there prices will, of course, be most reasonable;
and the expensiveness of such communities, we repeat, is entirely due to
the abundant wealth which makes such enormous demands and secures such
various comforts and luxuries;--in short, it is the high standard of
living, not the cost of the necessaries of life. This high standard
is, of course, an evil to those whose social ambition drives them to a
rivalry for which they are not prepared. But no special pity is due to
hardships self-imposed by pride and folly. The probability is, that,
proportioned to their income from labor, the cost of living in the city,
for the bulk of its population, is lighter, their degree of comfort
considered, than in the country. And for the wealthy class of society,
no doubt, on the whole, economy is served by living in the city. Our
most expensive class is that which lives in the country after the manner
of the city.
A literary man, of talents and thorough respectability, lately informed
us, that, after trying all places, cities, villages, farmhouses,
boarding-houses, hotels, taverns, he had discovered that keeping house
in New York was the cheapest way to live,--vastly the cheapest, if
the amount of convenience and comfort was considered,--and absolutely
cheapest in fact. To be sure, being a bachelor, his housekeeping was
done in a single room, the back-room of a third-story, in a respectable
and convenient house and neighborhood. His rent was ninety-six dollars a
year. His expenses of every other kind, (clothing excepted,) one dollar
a week. He could not get his chop or steak cooked well enough, nor his
coffee made right, until he took them in hand himself,--nor his bed
made, nor his room cleaned. His conveniences were incredibly great. He
cooked by alcohol, and expected to warm himself the winter through on
two gallons of alcohol at seventy-five cents a gallon. This admirable
housekeeping is equalled in economy only by that of a millionnaire, a
New-Yorker, and a bachelor also, whose accounts, all accurately kept by
his own hand, showed, after death, that (1st) his own living, (2d) his
support of religion, (3d) his charities, (4th) his gifts to a favorite
niece, had not averaged, for twenty years, over five hundred dollars.
Truly, the city is a cheap place to live in, for those who know how! And
what place is cheap for those who do not?
Contrary to the old notion, the more accurate statistics of recent times
have proved the city, as compared with the country, the more healthy,
the more moral, and the more religious place. What used to be considered
the great superiority of the country--hardship, absence of social
excitements and public amusements, simple food, freedom from moral
exposure--a better knowledge of the human constitution, considered
either physically or morally, has shown to be decidedly opposed to
health and virtue. More constitutions are broken down in the hardening
process than survive and profit by it. Cold houses, coarse food
unskilfully cooked, long winters, harsh springs, however favorable to
the heroism of the stomach, the lungs, and the spirits, are not found
conducive to longevity. In like manner, monotony, seclusion, lack of
variety and of social stimulus lower the tone of humanity, drive to
sensual pleasures and secret vices, and nourish a miserable pack of
mean and degrading immoralities, of which scandal, gossip, backbiting,
tale-bearing are the better examples.
In the Old World, the wealth of states is freely expended in the
embellishment of their capitals. It is well understood, not only that
loyalty is never more economically secured than by a lavish appeal to
the pride of the citizen in the magnificence of the public buildings
and grounds which he identifies with his nationality, but that popular
restlessness is exhaled and dangerous passions drained off in the
roominess which parks and gardens afford the common people. In the
New World, it has not yet proved necessary to provide against popular
discontents or to bribe popular patriotism with spectacles and
state-parade; and if it were so, there is no government with an interest
of its own separate from that of the people to adopt this policy. It has
therefore been concluded that democratic institutions must necessarily
lack splendor and great public provision for the gratification of the
aesthetic tastes or the indulgence of the leisure of the common people.
The people being, then, our sovereigns, it has not been felt that they
would or could have the largeness of view, the foresight, the sympathy
with leisure, elegance, and ease, to provide liberally and expensively
for their own recreation and refreshment. A bald utility has been the
anticipated genius of our public policy. Our national Mercury was to be
simply the god of the post-office, or the sprite of the barometer,--our
Pan, to keep the crows from the corn-fields,--our Muses, to preside over
district-schools. It begins now to appear that the people are not likely
to think anything too good for themselves, or to higgle about the
expense of whatever ministers largely to their tastes and fancies,--that
political freedom, popular education, the circulation of newspapers,
books, engravings, pictures, have already created a public which
understands that man does not live by bread alone,--which demands
leisure, beauty, space, architecture, landscape, music, elegance, with
an imperative voice, and is ready to back its demands with the necessary
self-taxation. This experience our absolute faith in free institutions
enabled us to anticipate as the inevitable result of our political
system; but let us confess that the rapidity with which it has developed
itself has taken us by surprise. We knew, that, when the people truly
realized their sovereignty, they would claim not only the utilitarian,
but the artistic and munificent attributes of their throne,--and that
all the splendors and decorations, all the provisions for leisure,
taste, and recreation, which kings and courts have made, would be found
to be mere preludes and rehearsals to the grander arrangements and
achievements of the vastly richer and more legitimate sovereign, the
People, when he understood his own right and duty. As dynasties and
thrones have been predictions of the royalty of the people, so old
courts and old capitals, with all their pomp and circumstance, their
parks and gardens, galleries and statues, are but dim prefigurings of
the glories of architecture, the grandeur of the grounds, the splendor
and richness of the museums and conservatories with which the people
will finally crown their own self-respect and decorate their own
majesty. But we did not expect to see this sure prophecy turning itself
into history in our day. We thought the people were too busy with the
spade and the quill to care for any other sceptres at present. But it
is now plain that they have been dreaming princely dreams and thinking
royal thoughts all the while, and are now ready to put them into costly
Passing by all other evidences of this, we come at once to the most
majestic and indisputable witness of this fact, the actual existence
of the Central Park in New York,--the most striking evidence of
the sovereignty of the people yet afforded in the history of free
institutions,--the best answer yet given to the doubts and fears which
have frowned on the theory of self-government,--the first grand proof
that the people do not mean to give up the advantages and victories of
aristocratic governments, in maintaining a popular one, but to engraft
the energy, foresight, and liberality of concentrated powers upon
democratic ideas, and keep all that has adorned and improved the past,
while abandoning what has impaired and disgraced it. That the American
people appreciate and are ready to support what is most elegant,
refined, and beautiful in the greatest capitals of Europe,--that they
value and intend to provide the largest and most costly opportunities
for the enjoyment of their own leisure, artistic tastes, and rural
instincts, is emphatically declared in the history, progress, and
manifest destiny of the Central Park; while their competency to use
wisely, to enjoy peacefully, to protect sacredly, and to improve
industriously the expensive, exposed, and elegant pleasure-ground they
have devised, is proved with redundant testimony by the year and more of
experience we have had in the use of the Park, under circumstances far
less favorable than any that can ever again arise. As a test of the
ability of the people to know their own higher wants, of the power of
their artistic instincts, their docility to the counsels of their most
judicious representatives, their superiority to petty economies, their
strength to resist the natural opposition of heavy tax-payers to
expensive public works, their gentleness and amenableness to just
authority in the pursuit of their pleasures, of their susceptibility to
the softening influences of elegance and beauty, of their honest pride
and rejoicing in their own splendor, of their superior fondness for what
is innocent and elevating over what is base and degrading, when
brought within equal reach, the Central Park has already afforded most
encouraging, nay, most decisive proof.
The Central Park is an anomaly to those who have not deeply studied the
tendencies of popular governments. It is a royal work, undertaken and
achieved by the Democracy,--surprising equally themselves and their
skeptical friends at home and abroad,--and developing, both in its
creation and growth, in its use and application, new and almost
incredible tastes, aptitudes, capacities, and powers in the people
themselves. That the people should be capable of the magnanimity of
laying down their authority, when necessary to concentrate it in
the hands of energetic and responsible trustees requiring large
powers,--that they should be willing to tax themselves heavily for the
benefit of future generations,--that they should be wise enough to
distrust their own judgment and defer modestly to the counsels of
experts,--that they should be in favor of the most solid and substantial
work,--that they should be willing to have the better half of their
money under ground and out of sight, invested in drains and foundations
of roads,--that they should acquiesce cheerfully in all the restrictions
necessary to the achievement of the work, while admitted freely to the
use and enjoyment of its inchoate processes,--that their conduct and
manners should prove so unexceptionable,--their disposition to trespass
upon strict rules so small,--their use and improvement of the work so
free, so easy, and so immediately justificatory of all the cost of so
generous and grand an enterprise: these things throw light and cheer
upon the prospects of popular institutions, at a period when they are
seriously clouded from other quarters.
We do not propose to enter into any description of the Central Park.
Those who have not already visited it will find a description,
accompanying a study for the plan submitted for competition in 1858, by
Messrs. Olmsted and Vaux, and published among the Documents of the New
York Senate, which will satisfy their utmost expectations. We wish
merely to throw out some replies to the leading objections we have met
in the papers and other quarters to the plan itself. We need hardly say
that the Central Park requires no advocate and no defence. Its great
proprietor, the Public, is perfectly satisfied with his purchase and his
agents. He thinks himself providentially guided in the choice of his
Superintendent, and does not vainly pique himself upon his sagacity in
selecting Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted for the post. This gentleman, in his
place, offsets at least a thousand square plugs in round holes. He is
precisely the man for the place,--and that is precisely the place for
the man. Among final causes, it would be difficult not to assign the
Central Park as the reason of his existence. To fill the duties of his
office as he has filled them,--to prove himself equally competent as
original designer, patient executor, potent disciplinarian, and model
police-officer,--to enforce a method, precision, and strictness, equally
marked in the workmanship, in the accounts, and in the police of the
Park,--to be equally studious of the highest possible use and enjoyment
of the work by the public of to-day, and of the prospects and privileges
of the coming generations,--to sympathize with the outside people,
while in the closest fellowship with the inside,--to make himself
equally the favorite and friend of the people and of the workmen:
this proves an original adaptation, most carefully improved, which we
seriously believe not capable of being paralleled in any other public
work, of similar magnitude, ever undertaken. The union of prosaic
sense with poetical feeling, of democratic sympathies with refined
and scholarly tastes, of punctilious respect for facts with tender
hospitality for ideas, has enabled him to appreciate and embody, both in
the conception and execution of the Park, the beau-ideal of a people's
pleasure-ground. If he had not borne, as an agriculturist, and as the
keenest, most candid, and instructive of all our writers on the moral
and political economy of our American Slavery, a name to be long
remembered, he might safely trust his reputation to the keeping of New
York city and all her successive citizens, as the author and achiever of
the Central Park,--which, when completed, will prove, we are confident,
the most splendid, satisfactory, and popular park in the world.
Two grand assumptions have controlled the design from the inception.
First, That the Park would be the only park deserving the name, for a
town of twice or thrice the present population of New York; that
this town would be built compactly around it (and in this respect
of centrality it would differ from any extant metropolitan park of
magnitude); and that it would be a town of greater wealth and more
luxurious demands than any now existing.
Second, That, while in harmony with the luxury of the rich, the Park
should and would be used more than any existing park by people of
moderate wealth and by poor people, and that its use by these people
must be made safe, convenient, agreeable; that they must be expected
to have a pride and pleasure in using it rightly, in cherishing and
protecting it against all causes of injury and dilapidation, and that
this is to be provided for and encouraged.
A want of appreciation of the first assumption is the cause of all
sincere criticism against the Transverse Roads. Some engineers
originally pronounced them impracticable of construction; but all their
grounds of apprehension have been removed by the construction of two of
them, especially by the completion of the tunnel under Vista Rock, and
below the foundation of the Reservoir embankment and wall. They were
planned for the future; they are being built solidly, massively,
permanently, for the future. Less thoroughly and expensively
constructed, they would need to be rebuilt in the future at enormously
increased cost, and with great interruption to the use of the Park; and
the grounds in their vicinity, losing the advantage of age, would need
to be remodelled and remade. An engineer, visiting the Park for the
first time, and hearing the criticism to which we refer applied to the
walls and bridges of the Transverse Roads, observed,--"People in this
country are so unaccustomed to see genuine substantial work, they do not
know what it means when they meet with it." We think he did not do the
The Transverse Roads passing through the Park will not be seen from
it; and although they will not be, when deep in the shadow of the
overhanging bridges and groves, without a very grand beauty, this will
be the beauty of utility and of permanence, not of imaginative grace.
The various bridges and archways of the Park proper, while equally
thorough in their mode of construction, and consequently expensive,
are in all cases embellished each with special decorations in form and
color. These decorations have the same quality of substantiality and
thorough good workmanship. Note the clean under-cutting of the leaves,
(of which there are more than fifty different forms in the decorations
of the Terrace arch,) and their consequent sharp and expressive shadows.
Admitting the need of these structures, and the economy of a method of
construction which would render them permanent, the additional cost of
their permanent decoration in this way could not have been rationally
Regard for the distant future has likewise controlled the planting; and
the Commissioners, in so far as they have resisted the clamor of the
day, that the Park must be immediately shaded, have done wisely. Every
horticulturist knows that this immediate shade would be purchased at an
expense of dwarfed, diseased, and deformed trees, with stinted shade, in
the future. No man has planted large and small trees together without
regretting the former within twenty years. The same consideration
answers an objection which has been made, that the trees are too much
arranged in masses of color. Imagine a growth of twenty years, with the
proper thinnings, and most of these masses will resolve each into one
tree, singled out, as the best individual of its mass, to remain. There
is a large scale in the planting, as in everything else.
Regard to the convenience, comfort, and safety of those who cannot
afford to visit the Park in carriages has led to an unusual extent and
variety of character in the walks, and also to a peculiar arrangement by
which they are carried in many instances beneath and across the line of
the carriage-roads. Thus access can be had by pedestrians to all parts
of the Park at times when the roads are thronged with vehicles, without
any delays or dangers in crossing the roads, and without the humiliation
to sensitive democrats of being spattered or dusted, or looked down upon
from luxurious equipages.
The great irregularity of the surface offers facilities for this
purpose,--the walks being carried through the heads of valleys which are
crossed by the carriage-ways upon arches of masonry. Now with regard to
these archways, if no purposes of convenience were to be served by them,
the Park would not, we may admit, be beautified by them. But we assume
that the population of New York is to be doubled; that, when it is so,
if not sooner, the walks and drives of the Park will often be densely
thronged; and, for the comfort of the people, when that shall be the
case, we consider that these archways will be absolutely necessary.[A]
Assuming further, then, that they are to be built, and, if ever, built
now,--since it would involve an entirely new-modelling of the Park to
introduce them in the future,--it was necessary to pay some attention to
make them agreeable and unmonotonous objects, or the general impression
of ease, freedom, and variety would be interfered with very materially.
It is not to make the Park architectural, as is commonly supposed, that
various and somewhat expensive _design_ is introduced; on the contrary,
it is the intention to plant closely in the vicinity of all the arches,
so that they may be unnoticed in the general effect, and be seen only
just at the time they are being used, when, of course, they must come
under notice. The charge is made, that the features of the natural
landscape have been disregarded in the plan. To which we answer, that on
the ground of the Lower Park there was originally no landscape, in the
artistic sense. There were hills, and hillocks, and rocks, and swampy
valleys. It would have been easy to flood the swamps into ponds, to
clothe the hillocks with grass and the hills with foliage, and leave the
rocks each unscathed in its picturesqueness. And this would have been a
great improvement; yet there would be no landscape: there would be
an unassociated succession of objects,--many nice "bits" of scenery,
appropriate to a villa-garden or to an artist's sketch-book, but no
scenery such as an artist arranges for his broad canvas, no composition,
no _park-like_ prospect. It would have afforded a good place for
loitering; but if this were all that was desirable, forty acres would
have done as well as a thousand, as is shown in the Ramble. Space,
breadth, objects in the distance, clear in outline, but obscure,
mysterious, exciting curiosity, in their detail, were wanting.
[Footnote A: The length of roads, walks, etc., completed, will be found
in the last Annual Report, pp. 47-52.
The length of the famous drive in Hyde Park (the King Road) is 2 1/2
miles. There is another road, straight between two gates, 1 1/4 miles in
length. "Rotten Bow" (the Ride) is a trifle over a mile in length.
The length of Drive in Central Park will be 9 1/3 miles; the length of
Bridle Roads, 5 1/3 miles; the length of Walks, 20 miles.
Ten miles of walk, gravelled and substantially underlaid, are now
Eighteen archways are planned, beside those of the Transverse Roads,
equal 1 to 46 acres. When the planting is well-grown, no two of the
archways will be visible from the same point.]
To their supply there were hard limitations. On each side, within half
a mile of each other, there were to be lines of stone and brick houses,
cutting off any great lateral distance. Suppose one to have entered
the Park at the south end, and to have moved far enough within it to
dispossess his mind of the sentiments of the streets: he will have
threaded his way between hillocks and rocks, one after another,
differing in magnitude, but never opening a landscape having breadth or
distance. He ascends a hill and looks northward: the most distant
object is the hard, straight, horizontal line of the stone wall of the
Reservoir, flanked on one side by the peak of Vista Rock. It is a little
over a mile distant,--but, standing clear out against the horizon,
appears much less than that. Hide it with foliage, as well as the houses
right and left, and the limitation of distance is a mile in front and a
quarter of a mile upon each side. Low hills or ridges of rock in a great
degree cut off the intermediate ground from view: cross these, and the
same unassociated succession of objects might be visited, but no one of
them would have engaged the visitor's attention and attracted him onward
from a distance. The plan has evidently been to make a selection of
the natural features to form the leading ideas of the new scenery, to
magnify the most important quality of each of these, and to remove or
tone down all the irregularities of the ground between them, and by all
means to make the limit of vision undefined and obscure. Thus, in the
central portion of the Lower Park the low grounds have been generally
filled, and the high grounds reduced; but the two largest areas of low
ground have been excavated, the excavation being carried laterally into
the hills as far as was possible, without extravagant removal of rock,
and the earth obtained transferred to higher ground connecting hillocks
with hills. Excavations have also been made about the base of all the
more remarkable ledges and peaks of rock, while additional material has
been conveyed to their sides and summits to increase their size and
This general rule of the plan was calculated to give, in the first
place, breadth, and, in the second, emphasis, to any general prospect
of the Park. A want of unity, or rather, if we may use the word, of
assemblage, belonged to the ground; and it must have been one of the
first problems to establish some one conspicuous, salient idea which
should take the lead in the composition, and about which all minor
features should seem naturally to group as accessories. The straight,
evidently artificial, and hence distinctive and notable, Mall, with its
terminating Terrace, was the resolution of this problem. It will be,
when the trees are fully grown, a feature of the requisite importance,
--and will serve the further purpose of opening the view toward, and, as
it were, framing and keeping attention directed upon, Vista Rock, which
from the southern end of the Mall is the most distant object that can be
brought into view.
For the same purpose, evidently, it was thought desirable to insist,
as far as possible, upon a pause at the point where, to the visitor
proceeding northward, the whole hill-side and glen before Vista Rock
first came under view, and where an effect of distance in that direction
was yet attainable. This is provided for by the Terrace, with its
several stairs and stages, and temptations to linger and rest. The
introduction of the Lake to the northward of the Terrace also obliges a
diversion from the direct line of proceeding; the visitor's attention is
henceforth directed laterally, or held by local objects, until at length
by a circuitous route he reaches and ascends (if he chooses) the summit
of Vista Rock, when a new landscape of entirely different character, and
one not within our control, is opened to him. Thus the apparent distance
of Vista Rock from the lower part of the Park (which is increased
by means which we have not thought it necessary to describe) is not
falsified by any experience of the visitor in his subsequent journey to
There was a fine and completely natural landscape in the Upper Park. The
plan only simplifies it,--removing and modifying those objects which
were incongruous with its best predominating character, and here and
there adding emphasis or shadow.
The Park (with the extension) is two and three quarter miles in length
and nearly half a mile wide. It contains 843 acres, including the
Reservoir (136 acres).
Original cost of land to 106th Street, $5,444,369.90
Of this, assessed on adjoining property, 1,657,590.00
To be paid by corporation direct, 3,786,779.90
Assessed value of extension land, (106th to 110th,) 1,400,000.00
Total cost of land, $6,800,000.00[B]
[Footnote B: The amount thus far expended in construction and
maintenance is nearly $3,000,000. The plan upon which the work is
proceeding will require a further expenditure of $1,600,000. The
expenditure is not squandered. Much the larger part of it is paid for
day-labor. Account with laborers is kept by the hour, the rate of wages
being scarcely above the lowest contractor's rates, and 30 per cent.
below the rate of other public works of the city; always paid directly
into the laborer's hands,--in specie, however.
The thorough government of the work, and the general efficiency of its
direction, are indicated by the remarkable good order and absence of
"accidents" which have characterized it. See p. 64 of Annual Report,
1860. For some particulars of cost, see pp. 61, 62, of same Report.]
In all European parks, there is more or less land the only use of which
is to give a greater length to the roads which pass around it,--it being
out of sight, and, in American phrase, unimproved. There is not an acre
of land in Central Park, which, if not wanted for Park purposes, would
not sell for at least as much as the land surrounding the Park and
beyond its limits,--that is to say, for at least $60,000, the legal
annual interest of which is $4,200. This would be the ratio of the
annual waste of property in the case of any land not put to use; but,
in elaborating the plan, care has been taken that no part of the Park
should be without its special advantages, attractions, or valuable uses,
and that these should as far as possible be made immediately available
to the public.
The comprehensiveness of purpose and the variety of detail of the plan
far exceed those of any other park in the world, and have involved, and
continue to involve, a greater amount of study and invention than has
ever before been given to a park. A consideration of this should enforce
an unusually careful method of maintenance, both in the gardening and
police departments. Sweeping with a broom of brush-wood once a week is
well enough for a hovel; but the floors of a palace must needs be daily
waxed and polished, to justify their original cost. We are unused to
thorough gardening in this country. There are not in all the United
States a dozen lawns or grass-plots so well kept as the majority of
tradesmen's door-yards in England or Holland. Few of our citizens have
ever seen a really well-kept ground. During the last summer, much of the
Park was in a state of which the Superintendent professed himself to be
ashamed; but it caused not the slightest comment with the public, so far
as we heard. As nearly all men in office, who have not a personal taste
to satisfy, are well content, if they succeed in satisfying the public,
we fear the Superintendent will be forced to "economize" on the keeping
of the Park, as he was the past year, to a degree which will be as far
from true economy as the cleaning of mosaic floors with birch brooms.
The Park is laid out in a manner which assumes and requires cleanly and
orderly habits in those who use it; much of its good quality will be
lost, if it be not very neatly kept; and such negligence in the keeping
will tend to negligence in the using.
In the plan, there is taken for granted a generally good inclination, a
cleanly, temperate, orderly disposition, on the part of the public which
is to frequent the Park, and finally to be the governors of its keeping,
and a good, well-disposed, and well-disciplined police force, who would,
in spite of "the inabilities of a republic," adequately control the
cases exceptional to the assumed general good habits of that public,--at
the same time neglecting no precaution to facilitate the convenient
enforcement of the laws, and reduce the temptation to disorderly
practices to a minimum.
How thoroughly justified has been this confidence in the people, taking
into account the novelty of a good public ground, of cleanliness in our
public places, and indeed the novelty of the whole undertaking, we have
already intimated. How much the privileges of the Park in its present
incomplete condition are appreciated, and how generally the requirements
of order are satisfied, the following summary, compiled from the
Park-keeper's reports of the first summer's use after the roads of the
Lower Park were opened, will inadequately show.
Number of visitors in six months. Foot. Saddle. Carriages.
May, 184,450 8,017 26,500
June, 294,300 9,050 31,300
July, 71,035 2,710 4,945
August, 63,800 875 14,905
September, 47,433 2,645 20,708
October, 160,187 3,014 26,813
Usual number of visitors on a
fine summer's day, 2,000 90 1,200
Usual number of visitors on a
fine Sunday, 35,000 60 1,500
(Men 20,000, Women 13,000, Children 2,000.)
Sunday, May 29, entrances counted, 75,000 120 3,200
Usual number of visitors,
fine Concert day, 7,500 180 2,500
Saturday, Sept. 22, (Concert day,)
entrances counted, 13,000 225 4,650
During this time, (six months,) but thirty persons were detected upon
the Park tipsy. Of these, twenty-four were sufficiently drunk to justify
their arrest,--the remainder going quietly off the grounds, when
requested to do so. That is to say, it is not oftener than once a week
that a man is observed to be the worse for liquor while on the Park; and
this, while three to four thousand laboring men are at work within it,
are paid upon it, and grog-shops for their accommodation are all along
its boundaries. In other words, about one in thirty thousand of the
visitors to the Park has been under the influence of drink when induced
to visit it.
On Christmas and New-Year's Days, it was estimated by many experienced
reporters that over 100,000 persons, each day, were on the Park,
generally in a frolicksome mood. Of these, but one (a small boy) was
observed by the keepers to be drunk; there was not an instance of
quarrelling, and no disorderly conduct, except a generally good-natured
resistance to the efforts of the police to maintain safety on the ice.
The Bloomingdale Road and Harlem Lane, two famous trotting-courses,
where several hundred famously fast horses may be seen at the top of
their speed any fine afternoon, both touch an entrance to the Park. The
Park roads are, of course, vastly attractive to the trotters, and for
a few weeks there were daily instances of fast driving there: as soon,
however, as the law and custom of the Park, restricting speed to a
moderate rate, could be made generally understood, fast driving became
very rare,--more so, probably, than in Hyde Park or the Bois de
Boulogne. As far as possible, an arrest has been made in every case
of intentionally fast driving observed by the keepers: those arrested
number less than one to ten thousand of the vehicles entering the Park
for pleasure-driving. In each case a fine (usually three dollars) has
been imposed by the magistrate.
In six months there have been sixty-four arrests for all sorts of
"disorderly conduct," including walking on the grass after being
requested to quit it, quarrelling, firing crackers, etc.,--one in
eighteen thousand visitors. So thoroughly established is the good
conduct of people on the Park, that many ladies walk daily in the Ramble
A protest, as already intimated, is occasionally made against the
completeness of detail to which the Commissioners are disposed to
carry their work, on the ground that the habits of the masses of our
city-population are ill-calculated for its appreciation, and that loss
and damage to expensive work must often be the result. To which we
would answer, that, if the authorities of the city hitherto have so far
misapprehended or neglected their duty as to allow a large industrious
population to continue so long without the opportunity for public
recreations that it has grown up ignorant of the rights and duties
appertaining to the general use of a well-kept pleasure-ground, any
losses of the kind apprehended, which may in consequence occur, should
be cheerfully borne as a necessary part of the responsibility of a
good government. Experience thus far, however, does not justify these
To collect exact evidence showing that the Park is already exercising a
good influence upon the character of the people is not in the nature of
the case practicable. It has been observed that rude, noisy fellows,
after entering the more advanced or finished parts of the Park, become
hushed, moderate, and careful. Observing the generally tranquil and
pleased expression, and the quiet, sauntering movement, the frequent
exclamations of pleasure in the general view or in the sight of some
special object of natural beauty, on the part of the crowds of idlers in
the Ramble on a Sunday afternoon, and recollecting the totally opposite
character of feeling, thought, purpose, and sentiment which is expressed
by a crowd assembled anywhere else, especially in the public streets of
the city, the conviction cannot well be avoided that the Park already
exercises a beneficent influence of no inconsiderable value, and of a
kind which could have been gained in no other way. We speak of Sunday
afternoons and of a crowd; but the Park evidently does induce many a
poor family, and many a poor seamstress and journeyman, to take a day or
a half-day from the working-time of the week, to the end of retaining
their youth and their youthful relations with purer Nature, and to their
gain in strength, good-humor, safe citizenship, and--if the economists
must be satisfied--money-value to the commonwealth. Already, too, there
are several thousand men, women, and children who resort to the Park
habitually: some daily, before business or after business, and women
and children at regular hours during the day; some weekly; and some at
irregular, but certain frequent chances of their business. Mr. Astor,
when in town, rarely misses his daily ride; nor Mr. Bancroft; Mr. Mayor
Harper never his drive. And there are certain working-men with their
families equally sure to be met walking on Sunday morning or Sunday
afternoon; others on Saturday. The number of these _habitues_ constantly
increases. When we meet those who depend on the Park as on the butcher
and the omnibus, and the thousands who are again drawn by whatever
impulse and suggestion of the hour, we often ask, What would they have
done, where would they have been, to what sort of recreation would they
have turned, _if to any_, had there been no park? Of one sort the answer
is supplied by the keeper of a certain saloon, who came to the Park, as
he said, to see his old Sunday customers. The enjoyment of the ice had
made them forget their grog.
Six or seven years ago, an opposition brought down the prices and
quadrupled the accommodations of the Staten Island ferry-boats. Clifton
Park and numerous German gardens were opened; and the consequence was
described, in common phrase, as the transformation of a portion of the
island, on Sunday, to a Pandemonium. We thought we would, like Dante,
have a cool look at it. We had read so much about it, and heard it
talked about and preached about so much, that we were greatly surprised
to find the throng upon the sidewalks quite as orderly and a great deal
more evidently good-natured than any we ever saw before in the United
States. We spent some time in what we had been led to suppose the
hottest place, Clifton Park, in which there was a band of music and
several thousand persons, chiefly Germans, though with a good sprinkling
of Irish servant-girls with their lovers and brothers, with beer
and ices; but we saw no rudeness, and no more impropriety, no more
excitement, no more (week-day) sin, than we had seen at the church in
the morning. Every face, however, was foreign. By-and-by came in three
Americans, talking loudly, moving rudely, proclaiming contempt for
"lager" and yelling for "liquor," bantering and offering fight, joking
coarsely, profane, noisy, demonstrative in any and every way, to the end
of attracting attention to themselves, and proclaiming that they were
"on a spree" and highly excited. They could not keep it up; they became
awkward, ill at ease, and at length silent, standing looking about them
in stupid wonder. Evidently they could not understand what it meant:
people drinking, smoking in public, on Sunday, and yet not excited, not
trying to make it a spree. It was not comprehensible. We ascertained
that one of the ferry-boat bars had disposed of an enormous stock of
lemonade, ginger-beer, and soda-water before three o'clock,--but, till
this was all gone, not half a dozen glasses of intoxicating drinks.
We saw no quarrelling, no drunkenness, and nothing like the fearful
disorder which had been described,--with a few such exceptions as we
have mentioned of native Americans who had no conception of enjoyment
free from bodily excitement.
To teach and induce habits of orderly, tranquil, contemplative, or
social amusement, moderate exercises and recreation, soothing to the
nerves, has been the most needed "mission" for New York. We think we
see daily evidence that the Park accomplishes not a little in this way.
Unfortunately, the evidence is not of a character to be expressed in
Federal currency, else the Commissioners would not be hesitating about
taking the ground from One-Hundred-and-Sixth to One-Hundred-and-Tenth
Street, because it is to cost half a million more than was anticipated.
What the Park is worth to us to-day is, we trust, but a trifle to what
it will be worth when the bulk of our hard-working people, of our
over-anxious Marthas, and our gutter-skating children shall live nearer
to it, and more generally understand what it offers them,--when its
play-grounds are ready, its walks more shaded,--when cheap and wholesome
meals, to the saving, occasionally, of the dreary housewife's daily
pottering, are to be had upon it,--when its system of cheap cabs shall
have been successfully inaugurated,--and when a daily discourse of sweet
sounds shall have been made an essential part of its functions in the
We shall not probably live to see "the gentility of Sir Philip Sidney
made universal," but we do hope that we shall live to know many
residents of towns of ten thousand population who will be ashamed to
subscribe for the building of new churches while no public play-ground
is being prepared for their people.
LIFE IN THE IRON-MILLS.
"Is this the end?
O Life, as futile, then, as frail!
What hope of answer or redress?"
A cloudy day: do you know what that is in a town of iron-works? The sky
sank down before dawn, muddy, flat, immovable. The air is thick, clammy
with the breath of crowded human beings. It stifles me. I open the
window, and, looking out, can scarcely see through the rain the grocer's
shop opposite, where a crowd of drunken Irishmen are puffing Lynchburg
tobacco in their pipes. I can detect the scent through all the foul
smells ranging loose in the air.
The idiosyncrasy of this town is smoke. It rolls sullenly in slow folds
from the great chimneys of the iron-foundries, and settles down in
black, slimy pools on the muddy streets. Smoke on the wharves, smoke on
the dingy boats, on the yellow river,--clinging in a coating of greasy
soot to the house-front, the two faded poplars, the faces of the
passers-by. The long train of mules, dragging masses of pig-iron through
the narrow street, have a foul vapor hanging to their reeking sides.
Here, inside, is a little broken figure of an angel pointing upward from
the mantel-shelf; but even its wings are covered with smoke, clotted
and black. Smoke everywhere! A dirty canary chirps desolately in a
cage beside me. Its dream of green fields and sunshine is a very old
dream,--almost worn out, I think.
From the back-window I can see a narrow brick-yard sloping down to
the river-side, strewed with rain-butts and tubs. The river, dull and
tawny-colored, _(la belle riviere!)_ drags itself sluggishly along,
tired of the heavy weight of boats and coal-barges. What wonder? When I
was a child, I used to fancy a look of weary, dumb appeal upon the face
of the negro-like river slavishly bearing its burden day after day.
Something of the same idle notion comes to me to-day, when from the
street-window I look on the slow stream of human life creeping past,
night and morning, to the great mills. Masses of men, with dull,
besotted faces bent to the ground, sharpened here and there by pain
or cunning; skin and muscle and flesh begrimed with smoke and ashes;
stooping all night over boiling caldrons of metal, laired by day in
dens of drunkenness and infamy; breathing from infancy to death an air
saturated with fog and grease and soot, vileness for soul and body. What
do you make of a case like that, amateur psychologist? You call it an
altogether serious thing to be alive: to these men it is a drunken jest,
a joke,--horrible to angels perhaps, to them commonplace enough. My
fancy about the river was an idle one: it is no type of such a life.
What if it be stagnant and slimy here? It knows that beyond there waits
for it odorous sunlight,--quaint old gardens, dusky with soft, green
foliage of apple-trees, and flushing crimson with roses,--air, and
fields, and mountains. The future of the Welsh puddler passing just now
is not so pleasant. To be stowed away, after his grimy work is done, in
a hole in the muddy graveyard, and after that,--_not_ air, nor green
fields, nor curious roses.
Can you see how foggy the day is? As I stand here, idly tapping the
window-pane, and looking out through the rain at the dirty back-yard and
the coal-boats below, fragments of an old story float up before me,--a
story of this old house into which I happened to come to-day. You may
think it a tiresome story enough, as foggy as the day, sharpened by no
sudden flashes of pain or pleasure.--I know: only the outline of a dull
life, that long since, with thousands of dull lives like its own, was
vainly lived and lost: thousands of them,--massed, vile, slimy lives,
like those of the torpid lizards in yonder stagnant water-butt.--Lost?
There is a curious point for you to settle, my friend, who study
psychology in a lazy, _dilettante_ way. Stop a moment. I am going to be
honest. This is what I want you to do. I want you to hide your disgust,
take no heed to your clean clothes, and come right down with me,--here,
into the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia. I want you to
hear this story. There is a secret down here, in this nightmare fog,
that has lain dumb for centuries: I want to make it a real thing to you.
You, Egoist, or Pantheist, or Arminian, busy in making straight paths
for your feet on the hills, do not see it clearly,--this terrible
question which men here have gone mad and died trying to answer. I dare
not put this secret into words. I told you it was dumb. These men, going
by with drunken faces and brains full of unawakened power, do not ask it
of Society or of God. Their lives ask it; their deaths ask it. There is
no reply. I will tell you plainly that I have a great hope; and I bring
it to you to be tested. It is this: that this terrible dumb question is
its own reply; that it is not the sentence of death we think it, but,
from the very extremity of its darkness, the most solemn prophecy which
the world has known of the Hope to come. I dare make my meaning no
clearer, but will only tell my story. It will, perhaps, seem to you as
foul and dark as this thick vapor about us, and as pregnant with death;
but if your eyes are free as mine are to look deeper, no perfume-tinted
dawn will be so fair with promise of the day that shall surely come.
My story is very simple,--only what I remember of the life of one
of these men,--a furnace-tender in one of Kirby & John's
rolling-mills,--Hugh Wolfe. You know the mills? They took the great
order for the Lower Virginia railroads there last winter; run usually
with about a thousand men. I cannot tell why I choose the half-forgotten
story of this Wolfe more than that of myriads of these furnace-hands.
Perhaps because there is a secret underlying sympathy between that story
and this day with its impure fog and thwarted sunshine,--or perhaps
simply for the reason that this house is the one where the Wolfes lived.
There were the father and son,--both hands, as I said, in one of Kirby
& John's mills for making railroad-iron,--and Deborah, their cousin, a
picker in some of the cotton-mills. The house was rented then to half
a dozen families. The Wolfes had two of the cellar-rooms. The old man,
like many of the puddlers and feeders of the mills, was Welsh,--had
spent half of his life in the Cornish tin-mines. You may pick the Welsh
emigrants, Cornish miners, out of the throng passing the windows, any
day. They are a trifle more filthy; their muscles are not so brawny;
they stoop more. When they are drunk, they neither yell, nor shout, nor
stagger, but skulk along like beaten hounds. A pure, unmixed blood, I
fancy: shows itself in the slight angular bodies and sharply-cut facial
lines. It is nearly thirty years since the Wolfes lived here. Their
lives were like those of their class: incessant labor, sleeping in
kennel-like rooms, eating rank pork and molasses, drinking--God and the
distillers only know what; with an occasional night in jail, to atone
for some drunken excess. Is that all of their lives?--of the portion
given to them and these their duplicates swarming the streets to-day?
--nothing beneath?--all? So many a political reformer will tell
you,--and many a private reformer, too, who has gone among them with a
heart tender with Christ's charity, and come out outraged, hardened.
One rainy night, about eleven o'clock, a crowd of half-clothed women
stopped outside of the cellar-door. They were going home from the
"Good-night, Deb," said one, a mulatto, steadying herself against the
gas-post. She needed the post to steady her. So did more than one of
"Dah's a ball to Miss Potts' to-night. Ye'd best come."
"Inteet, Deb, if hur 'll come, hur 'll hef fun," said a shrill Welsh
voice in the crowd.
Two or three dirty hands were thrust out to catch the gown of the woman,
who was groping for the latch of the door.
"No? Where's Kit Small, then?"
"Begorra! on the spools. Alleys behint, though we helped her, we dud.
An wid ye! Let Deb alone! It's ondacent frettin' a quite body. Be
the powers, an' we'll have a night of it! there'll be lashin's o'
drink,--the Vargent be blessed and praised for 't!"
They went on, the mulatto inclining for a moment to show fight, and drag
the woman Wolfe off with them; but, being pacified, she staggered away.
Deborah groped her way into the cellar, and, after considerable
stumbling, kindled a match, and lighted a tallow dip, that sent a yellow
glimmer over the room. It was low, damp,--the earthen floor covered with
a green, slimy moss,--a fetid air smothering the breath. Old Wolfe lay
asleep on a heap of straw, wrapped in a torn horse-blanket. He was a
pale, meek little man, with a white face and red rabbit-eyes. The woman
Deborah was like him; only her face was even more ghastly, her lips
bluer, her eyes more watery. She wore a faded cotton gown and a
slouching bonnet. When she walked, one could see that she was deformed,
almost a hunchback. She trod softly, so as not to waken him, and went
through into the room beyond. There she found by the half-extinguished
fire an iron saucepan filled with cold boiled potatoes, which she put
upon a broken chair with a pint-cup of ale. Placing the old candlestick
beside this dainty repast, she untied her bonnet, which hung limp and
wet over her face, and prepared to eat her supper. It was the first
food that had touched her lips since morning. There was enough of it,
however: there is not always. She was hungry,--one could see that easily
enough,--and not drunk, as most of her companions would have been found
at this hour. She did not drink, this woman,--her face told that,
too,--nothing stronger than ale. Perhaps the weak, flaccid wretch had
some stimulant in her pale life to keep her up,--some love or hope, it
might be, or urgent need. When that stimulant was gone, she would take
to whiskey. Man cannot live by work alone. While she was skinning the
potatoes, and munching them, a noise behind her made her stop.
"Janey!" she called, lifting the candle and peering into the darkness.
"Janey, are you there?"
A heap of ragged coats was heaved up, and the face of a young girl
emerged, staring sleepily at the woman.
"Deborah," she said, at last, "I'm here the night."
"Yes, child. Hur's welcome," she said, quietly eating on.
The girl's face was haggard and sickly; her eyes were heavy with sleep
and hunger: real Milesian eyes they were, dark, delicate blue, glooming
out from black shadows with a pitiful fright.
"I was alone," she said, timidly.
"Where's the father?" asked Deborah, holding out a potato, which the
girl greedily seized.
"He's beyant,--wid Haley,--in the stone house." (Did you ever hear the
word _jail_ from an Irish mouth?) "I came here. Hugh told me never to
A vexed frown crossed her face. The girl saw it, and added quickly,--
"I have not seen Hugh the day, Deb. The old man says his watch lasts
till the mornin'."
The woman sprang up, and hastily began to arrange some bread and flitch
in a tin pail, and to pour her own measure of ale into a bottle. Tying
on her bonnet, she blew out the candle.
"Lay ye down, Janey dear," she said, gently, covering her with the old
rags. "Hur can eat the potatoes, if hur 's hungry."
"Where are ye goin', Deb? The rain 's sharp."
"To the mill, with Hugh's supper."
"Let him hide till th' morn. Sit ye down."
"No, no,"--sharply pushing her off. "The boy'll starve."
She hurried from the cellar, while the child wearily coiled herself up
for sleep. The rain was falling heavily, as the woman, pail in hand,
emerged from the mouth of the alley, and turned down the narrow street,
that stretched out, long and black, miles before her. Here and there a
flicker of gas lighted an uncertain space of muddy footwalk and gutter;
the long rows of houses, except an occasional lager-bier shop, were
closed; now and then she met a band of mill-hands skulking to or from
Not many even of the inhabitants of a manufacturing town know the vast
machinery of system by which the bodies of workmen are governed, that
goes on unceasingly from year to year. The hands of each mill are
divided into watches that relieve each other as regularly as the
sentinels of an army. By night and day the work goes on, the unsleeping
engines groan and shriek, the fiery pools of metal boil and surge. Only
for a day in the week, in half-courtesy to public censure, the fires are
partially veiled; but as soon as the clock strikes midnight, the great
furnaces break forth with renewed fury, the clamor begins with fresh,
breathless vigor, the engines sob and shriek like "gods in pain."
As Deborah hurried down through the heavy rain, the noise of these
thousand engines sounded through the sleep and shadow of the city like
far-off thunder. The mill to which she was going lay on the river, a
mile below the city-limits. It was far, and she was weak, aching from
standing twelve hours at the spools. Yet it was her almost nightly walk
to take this man his supper, though at every square she sat down to
rest, and she knew she should receive small word of thanks.
Perhaps, if she had possessed an artist's eye, the picturesque oddity
of the scene might have made her step stagger less, and the path seem
shorter; but to her the mills were only "summat deilish to look at by
The road leading to the mills had been quarried from the solid rock,
which rose abrupt and bare on one side of the cinder-covered road, while
the river, sluggish and black, crept past on the other. The mills for
rolling iron are simply immense tent-like roofs, covering acres of
ground, open on every side. Beneath these roofs Deborah looked in on a
city of fires, that burned hot and fiercely in the night. Fire in every
horrible form: pits of flame waving in the wind; liquid metal-flames
writhing in tortuous streams through the sand; wide caldrons filled with
boiling fire, over which bent ghastly wretches stirring the strange
brewing; and through all, crowds of half-clad men, looking like
revengeful ghosts in the red light, hurried, throwing masses of
glittering fire. It was like a street in Hell. Even Deborah muttered, as
she crept through, "'T looks like t' Devil's place!" It did,--in more
ways than one.
She found the man she was looking for, at last, heaping coal on a
furnace. He had not time to eat his supper; so she went behind the
furnace, and waited. Only a few men were with him, and they noticed her
only by a "Hyur comes t' hunchback, Wolfe."
Deborah was stupid with sleep; her back pained her sharply; and her
teeth chattered with cold, with the rain that soaked her clothes and
dripped from her at every step. She stood, however, patiently holding
the pail, and waiting.
"Hout, woman! ye look like a drowned cat. Come near to the fire,"--said
one of the men, approaching to scrape away the ashes.
She shook her head. Wolfe had forgotten her. He turned, hearing the man,
and came closer.
"I did no' think; gi' me my supper, woman."
She watched him eat with a painful eagerness. With a woman's quick
instinct, she saw that he was not hungry,--was eating to please her.
Her pale, watery eyes began to gather a strange light.
"Is't good, Hugh? T'ale was a bit sour, I feared."
"No, good enough." He hesitated a moment. "Ye're tired, poor lass! Bide
here till I go. Lay down there on that heap of ash, and go to sleep."
He threw her an old coat for a pillow, and turned to his work. The
heap was the refuse of the burnt iron, and was not a hard bed; the
half-smothered warmth, too, penetrated her limbs, dulling their pain and
Miserable enough she looked, lying there on the ashes like a limp,
dirty rag,--yet not an unfitting figure to crown the scene of hopeless
discomfort and veiled crime: more fitting, if one looked deeper into the
heart of things,--at her thwarted woman's form, her colorless life, her
waking stupor that smothered pain and hunger,--even more fit to be a
type of her class. Deeper yet if one could look, was there nothing worth
reading in this wet, faded thing, half-covered with ashes? no story of a
soul filled with groping passionate love, heroic unselfishness, fierce
jealousy? of years of weary trying to please the one human being whom
she loved, to gain one look of real heart-kindness from him? If anything
like this were hidden beneath the pale, bleared eyes, and dull,
washed-out-looking face, no one had ever taken the trouble to read its
faint signs: not the half-clothed furnace-tender, Wolfe, certainly. Yet
he was kind to her: it was his nature to be kind, even to the very rats
that swarmed in the cellar: kind to her in just the same way. She knew
that. And it might be that very knowledge had given to her face its
apathy and vacancy more than her low, torpid life. One sees that
dead, vacant look steal sometimes over the rarest, finest of women's
faces,--in the very midst, it may be, of their warmest summer's day; and
then one can guess at the secret of intolerable solitude that lies hid
beneath the delicate laces and brilliant smile. There was no warmth, no
brilliancy, no summer for this woman; so the stupor and vacancy had time
to gnaw into her face perpetually. She was young, too, though no one
guessed it; so the gnawing was the fiercer.
She lay quiet in the dark corner, listening, through the monotonous din
and uncertain glare of the works, to the dull plash of the rain in the
far distance,--shrinking back whenever the man Wolfe happened to look
towards her. She knew, in spite of all his kindness, that there was that
in her face and form which made him loathe the sight of her. She felt by
instinct, although she could not comprehend it, the finer nature of
the man, which made him among his fellow-workmen something unique, set
apart. She knew, that, down under all the vileness and coarseness of
his life, there was a groping passion for whatever was beautiful and
pure,--that his soul sickened with disgust at her deformity, even when
his words were kindest. Through this dull consciousness, which never
left her, came, like a sting, the recollection of the dark blue eyes and
lithe figure of the little Irish girl she had left in the cellar. The
recollection struck through even her stupid intellect with a vivid glow
of beauty and of grace. Little Janey, timid, helpless, clinging to Hugh
as her only friend: that was the sharp thought, the bitter thought, that
drove into the glazed eyes a fierce light of pain. You laugh at it? Are
pain and jealousy less savage realities down here in this place I am
taking you to than in your own house or your own heart,--your heart,
which they clutch at sometimes? The note is the same, I fancy, be the
octave high or low.
If you could go into this mill where Deborah lay, and drag out from the
hearts of these men the terrible tragedy of their lives, taking it as a
symptom of the disease of their class, no ghost Horror would terrify
you more. A reality of soul-starvation, of living death, that meets you
every day under the besotted faces on the street,--I can paint nothing
of this, only give you the outside outlines of a night, a crisis in the
life of one man: whatever muddy depth of soul-history lies beneath you
can read according to the eyes God has given you.
Wolfe, while Deborah watched him as a spaniel its master, bent over the
furnace with his iron pole, unconscious of her scrutiny, only stopping
to receive orders. Physically, Nature had promised the man but little.
He had already lost the strength and instinct vigor of a man, his
muscles were thin, his nerves weak, his face (a meek, woman's face)
haggard, yellow with consumption. In the mill he was known as one of the
girl-men: "Molly Wolfe" was his _sobriquet_. He was never seen, in
the cockpit, did not own a terrier, drank but seldom; when he did,
desperately. He fought sometimes, but was always thrashed, pommelled to
a jelly. The man was game enough, when his blood was up: but he was no
favorite in the mill; he had the taint of school-learning on him,--not
to a dangerous extent, only a quarter or so in the free-school in fact,
but enough to ruin him as a good hand in a fight.
For other reasons, too, he was not popular. Not one of themselves, they
felt that, though outwardly as filthy and ash-covered; silent, with
foreign thoughts and longings breaking out through his quietness in
innumerable curious ways: this one, for instance. In the neighboring
furnace-buildings lay great heaps of the refuse from the ore after the
pig-metal is run. _Korl_ we call it here: a light, porous substance, of
a delicate, waxen, flesh-colored tinge. Out of the blocks of this korl,
Wolfe, in his off-hours from the furnace, had a habit of chipping and
moulding figures,--hideous, fantastic enough, but sometimes strangely
beautiful: even the mill-men saw that, while they jeered at him. It was
a curious fancy in the man, almost a passion. The few hours for rest he
spent hewing and hacking with his blunt knife, never speaking, until his
watch came again,--working at one figure for months, and, when it was
finished, breaking it to pieces perhaps, in a fit of disappointment. A
morbid, gloomy man, untaught, unled, left to feed his soul in grossness
and crime, and hard, grinding labor.
I want you to come down and look at this Wolfe, standing there among the
lowest of his kind, and see him just as he is, that you may judge him
justly when you hear the story of this night. I want you to look back,
as he does every day, at his birth in vice, his starved infancy; to
remember the heavy years he has groped through as boy and man,--the
slow, heavy years of constant, hot work. So long ago he began, that he
thinks sometimes he has worked there for ages. There is no hope that it
will ever end. Think that God put into this man's soul a fierce thirst
for beauty,--to know it, to create it; to _be_--something, he knows not
what,--other than he is. There are moments when a passing cloud, the sun
glinting on the purple thistles, a kindly smile, a child's face, will
rouse him to a passion of pain,--when his nature starts up with a mad
cry of rage against God, man, whoever it is that has forced this vile,
slimy life upon him. With all this groping, this mad desire, a great
blind intellect stumbling through wrong, a loving poet's heart, the man
was by habit only a coarse, vulgar laborer, familiar with sights and
words you would blush to name. Be just; when I tell you about this
night, see him as he is. Be just,--not like man's law, which seizes on
one isolated fact, but like God's judging angel, whose clear, sad
eye saw all the countless cankering days of this man's life, all the
countless nights, when, sick with starving, his soul fainted in him,
before it judged him for this night, the saddest of all.
I called this night the crisis of his life. If it was, it stole on him
unawares. These great turning-days of life cast no shadow before, slip
by unconsciously. Only a trifle, a little turn of the rudder, and the
ship goes to heaven or hell.
Wolfe, while Deborah watched him, dug into the furnace of melting iron
with his pole, dully thinking only how many rails the lump would yield.
It was late,--nearly Sunday morning; another hour, and the heavy work
would be done,--only the furnaces to replenish and cover for the next
day. The workmen were growing more noisy, shouting, as they had to do,
to be heard over the deep clamor of the mills. Suddenly they grew less
boisterous,--at the far end, entirely silent. Something unusual had
happened. After a moment, the silence came nearer; the men stopped their
jeers and drunken choruses. Deborah, stupidly lifting up her head,
saw the cause of the quiet. A group of five or six men were slowly
approaching, stopping to examine each furnace as they came. Visitors
often came to see the mills after night: except by growing less noisy,
the men took no notice of them. The furnace where Wolfe worked was near
the bounds of the works; they halted there hot and tired: a walk over
one of these great foundries is no trifling task. The woman, drawing out
of sight, turned over to sleep. Wolfe, seeing them stop, suddenly roused
from his indifferent stupor, and watched them keenly. He knew some
of them: the overseer, Clarke,--a son of Kirby, one of the
mill-owners,--and a Doctor May, one of the town-physicians. The other
two were strangers. Wolfe came closer. He seized eagerly every chance
that brought him into contact with this mysterious class that shone down
on him perpetually with the glamour of another order of being. What made
the difference between them? That was the mystery of his life. He had
a vague notion that perhaps to-night he could find it out. One of the
strangers sat down on a pile of bricks, and beckoned young Kirby to his
"This _is_ hot, with a vengeance. A match, please?"--lighting his cigar.
"But the walk is worth the trouble. If it were not that you must have
heard it so often, Kirby, I would tell you that your works look like
"Yes. Yonder is Farinata himself in the burning tomb,"--pointing to some
figure in the shimmering shadows.
"Judging from some of the faces of your men," said the other, "they bid
fair to try the reality of Dante's vision, some day."
Young Kirby looked curiously around, as if seeing the faces of his hands
for the first time.
"They're bad enough, that's true. A desperate set, I fancy. Eh, Clarke?"
The overseer did not hear him. He was talking of net profits just
then,--giving, in fact, a schedule of the annual business of the firm to
a sharp peering little Yankee, who jotted down notes on a paper laid on
the crown of his hat: a reporter for one of the city-papers, getting up
a series of reviews of the leading manufactories. The other gentlemen
had accompanied them merely for amusement. They were silent until the
notes were finished, drying their feet at the furnaces, and sheltering
their faces from the intolerable heat. At last the overseer concluded
with--"I believe that is a pretty fair estimate, Captain."
"Here, some of you men!" said Kirby, "bring up those boards. We may as
well sit down, gentlemen, until the rain is over. It cannot last much
longer at this rate."
"Pig-metal,"--mumbled the reporter,--"um!--coal facilities,--um!--hands
employed, twelve hundred,--bitumen,--um!--'all right, I believe, Mr.
Clarke;--sinking-fund,--what did you say was your sinking-fund?"
"Twelve hundred hands?" said the stranger, the young man who had first
spoken. "Do you control their votes, Kirby?"
"Control? No." The young man smiled complacently. "But my father brought
seven hundred votes to the polls for his candidate last November. No
force-work, you understand,--only a speech or two, a hint to form
themselves into a society, and a bit of red and blue bunting to make
them a flag. The Invincible Roughs,--I believe that is their name. I
forget the motto: 'Our country's hope,' I think."
There was a laugh. The young man talking to Kirby sat with an amused
light in his cool gray eye, surveying critically the half-clothed
figures of the puddlers, and the slow swing of their brawny muscles. He
was a stranger in the city,--spending a couple of months in the
borders of a Slave State, to study the institutions of the South,--a
brother-in-law of Kirby's,--Mitchell. He was an amateur gymnast,--hence
his anatomical eye; a patron, in a _blase_ way, of the prize-ring; a man
who sucked the essence out of a science or philosophy in an indifferent,
gentlemanly way; who took Kant, Novalis, Humboldt, for what they were
worth in his own scales; accepting all, despising nothing, in heaven,
earth, or hell, but one-idead men; with a temper yielding and brilliant
as summer water, until his Self was touched, when it was ice, though
brilliant still. Such men are not rare in the States.
As he knocked the ashes from his cigar, Wolfe caught with a quick
pleasure the contour of the white hand, the blood-glow of a red ring he
wore. His voice, too, and that of Kirby's, touched him like music,--low,
even, with chording cadences. About this man Mitchell hung the
impalpable atmosphere belonging to the thorough-bred gentleman. Wolfe,
scraping away the ashes beside him, was conscious of it, did obeisance
to it with his artist sense, unconscious that he did so.
The rain did not cease. Clarke and the reporter left the mills; the
others, comfortably seated near the furnace, lingered, smoking
and talking in a desultory way. Greek would not have been more
unintelligible to the furnace-tenders, whose presence they soon forgot
entirely. Kirby drew out a newspaper from his pocket and read aloud some
article, which they discussed eagerly. At every sentence, Wolfe listened
more and more like a dumb, hopeless animal, with a duller, more stolid
look creeping over his face, glancing now and then at Mitchell, marking
acutely every smallest sign of refinement, then back to himself, seeing
as in a mirror his filthy body, his more stained soul.
Never! He had no words for such a thought, but he knew now, in all the
sharpness of the bitter certainty, that between them there was a great
gulf never to be passed. Never!
The bell of the mills rang for midnight. Sunday morning had dawned.
Whatever hidden message lay in the tolling bells floated past these men
unknown. Yet it was there. Veiled in the solemn music ushering the risen
Saviour was a key-note to solve the darkest secrets of a world gone
wrong,--even this social riddle which the brain of the grimy puddler
grappled with madly to-night.
The men began to withdraw the metal from the caldrons. The mills were
deserted on Sundays, except by the hands who fed the fires, and those
who had no lodgings and slept usually on the ash-heaps. The three
strangers sat still during the next hour, watching the men cover the
furnaces, laughing now and then at some jest of Kirby's.
"Do you know," said Mitchell, "I like this view of the works better than
when the glare was fiercest? These heavy shadows and the amphitheatre
of smothered fires are ghostly, unreal. One could fancy these red
smouldering lights to be the half-shut eyes of wild beasts, and the
spectral figures their victims in the den."
Kirby laughed. "You are fanciful. Come, let us get out of the den. The
spectral figures, as you call them, are a little too real for me to
fancy a close proximity in the darkness,--unarmed, too."
The others rose, buttoning their overcoats, and lighting cigars.
"Raining, still," said Doctor May, "and hard. Where did we leave the
"At the other side of the works.--Kirby, what's that?"
Mitchell started back, half-frightened, as, suddenly turning a corner,
the white figure of a woman faced him in the darkness,--a woman, white,
of giant proportions, crouching on the ground, her arms flung out in
some wild gesture of warning.
"Stop! Make that fire burn there!" cried Kirby, stopping short.
The flame burst out, flashing the gaunt figure into bold relief.
Mitchell drew a long breath.
"I thought it was alive," he said, going up curiously.
The others followed.
"Not marble, eh?" asked Kirby, touching it.
One of the lower overseers stopped.
"Who did it?"
"Can't say. Some of the hands; chipped it out in off-hours."
"Chipped to some purpose, I should say. What a flesh-tint the stuff has!
Do you see, Mitchell?"
He had stepped aside where the light fell boldest on the figure, looking
at it in silence. There was not one line of beauty or grace in it: a
nude woman's form, muscular, grown coarse with labor, the powerful limbs
instinct with some one poignant longing. One idea: there it was in the
tense, rigid muscles, the clutching hands, the wild, eager face, like
that of a starving wolf's. Kirby and Doctor May walked around it,
critical, curious. Mitchell stood aloof, silent. The figure touched him
"Not badly done," said Doctor May. "Where did the fellow learn that
sweep of the muscles in the arm and hand? Look at them! They are
groping,--do you see?--clutching: the peculiar action of a man dying of
"They have ample facilities for studying anatomy," sneered Kirby,
glancing at the half-naked figures.
"Look," continued the Doctor, "at this bony wrist, and the strained
sinews of the instep! A working-woman,--the very type of her class."
"God forbid!" muttered Mitchell.
"Why?" demanded May. "What does the fellow intend by the figure? I
cannot catch the meaning."
"Ask him," said the other, dryly. "There he stands,"--pointing to Wolfe,
who stood with a group of men, leaning on his ash-rake.
The Doctor beckoned him with the affable smile which kind-hearted men
put on, when talking to these people.
"Mr. Mitchell has picked you out as the man who did this,--I'm sure I
don't know why. But what did you mean by it?"
"She be hungry."
Wolfe's eyes answered Mitchell, not the Doctor.
"Oh-h! But what a mistake you have made, my fine fellow! You have given
no sign of starvation to the body. It is strong,--terribly strong. It
has the mad, half-despairing gesture of drowning."
Wolfe stammered, glanced appealingly at Mitchell, who saw the soul of
the thing, he knew. But the cool, probing eyes were turned on himself
now,--mocking, cruel, relentless.
"Not hungry for meat," the furnace-tender said at last.
"What then? Whiskey?" jeered Kirby, with a coarse laugh.
Wolfe was silent a moment, thinking.
"I dunno," he said, with a bewildered look. "It mebbe. Summat to make
her live, I think,--like you. Whiskey ull do it, in a way."
The young man laughed again. Mitchell flashed a look of disgust
somewhere,--not at Wolfe.
"May," he broke out impatiently, "are you blind? Look at that woman's
face! It asks questions of God, and says, 'I have a right to know.' Good
God, how hungry it is!"
They looked a moment; then May turned to the mill-owner:--
"Have you many such hands as this? What are you going to do with them?
Keep them at puddling iron?"
Kirby shrugged his shoulders. Mitchell's look had irritated him.
"_Ce n'est pas mon affaire_. I have no fancy for nursing infant
geniuses. I suppose there are some stray gleams of mind and soul among
these wretches. The Lord will take care of his own; or else they can
work out their own salvation. I have heard you call our American system
a ladder which any man can scale. Do you doubt it? Or perhaps you want
to banish all social ladders, and put us all on a flat table-land,--eh,
The Doctor looked vexed, puzzled. Some terrible problem lay hid in this
woman's face, and troubled these men. Kirby waited for an answer, and,
receiving none, went on, warning with his subject.
"I tell you, there's something wrong that no talk of '_Liberte_' or
'_Egalite_' will do away. If I had the making of men, these men who
do the lowest part of the world's work should be machines,--nothing
more,--hands. It would be kindness. God help them! What are taste,
reason, to creatures who must live such lives as that?" He pointed to
Deborah, sleeping on the ash-heap. "So many nerves to sting them to
pain. What if God had put your brain, with all its agony of touch, into
your fingers, and bid you work and strike with that?"
"You think you could govern the world better?" laughed the Doctor.
"I do not think at all."
"That is true philosophy. Drift with the stream, because you cannot dive
deep enough to find bottom, eh?"
"Exactly," rejoined Kirby. "I do not think. I wash my hands of all
social problems,--slavery, caste, white or black. My duty to my
operatives has a narrow limit,--the pay-hour on Saturday night. Outside
of that, if they cut korl, or cut each other's throats, (the more
popular amusement of the two,) I am not responsible."
The Doctor sighed,--a good honest sigh, from the depths of his stomach.
"God help us! Who is responsible?"
"Not I, I tell you," said Kirby, testily. "What has the man who pays
them money to do with their souls' concerns, more than the grocer or
butcher who takes it?"
"And yet," said Mitchell's cynical voice, "look at her! How hungry she
Kirby tapped his boot with his cane. No one spoke. Only the dumb face of
the rough image looking into their faces with the awful question, "What
shall we do to be saved?" Only Wolfe's face, with its heavy weight of
brain, its weak, uncertain mouth, its desperate eyes, out of which
looked the soul of his class,--only Wolfe's face turned towards Kirby's.
Mitchell laughed,--a cool, musical laugh.
"Money has spoken!" he said, seating himself lightly on a stone with the
air of an amused spectator at a play. "Are you answered?"--turning to
Wolfe his clear, magnetic face.
Bright and deep and cold as Arctic air, the soul of the man lay tranquil
beneath. He looked at the furnace-tender as he had looked at a rare
mosaic in the morning; only the man was the more amusing study of the
"Are you answered? Why, May, look at him! '_De profundis clamavi_.' Or,
to quote in English, 'Hungry and thirsty, his soul faints in him.' And
so Money sends back its answer into the depths through you, Kirby!
Very clear the answer, too!--I think I remember reading the same words
somewhere:--washing your hands in Eau de Cologne, and saying, 'I am
innocent of the blood of this man. See ye to it!'"
Kirby flushed angrily.
"You quote Scripture freely."
"Do I not quote correctly? I think I remember another line, which may
amend my meaning: 'Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these,
ye did it unto me.' Deist? Bless you, man, I was raised on the milk of
the Word. Now, Doctor, the pocket of the world having uttered its
voice, what has the heart to say? You are a philanthropist, in a small
way,--_n'est ce pas_? Here, boy, this gentleman can show you how to cut
korl better,--or your destiny. Go on, May!"
"I think a mocking devil possesses you to-night," rejoined the Doctor,
He went to Wolfe and put his hand kindly on his arm. Something of a
vague idea possessed the Doctor's brain that much good was to be done
here by a friendly word or two: a latent genius to be warmed into life
by a waited-for sunbeam. Here it was: he had brought it. So he went on
"Do you know, boy, you have it in you to be a great sculptor, a great
man?--do you understand?" (talking down to the capacity of his hearer:
it is a way people have with children, and men like Wolfe,)--"to live a
better, stronger life than I, or Mr. Kirby here? A man may make himself
anything he chooses. God has given you stronger powers than many
men,--me, for instance."
May stopped, heated, glowing with his own magnanimity. And it was
magnanimous. The puddler had drunk in every word, looking through the
Doctor's flurry, and generous heat, and self-approval, into his will,
with those slow, absorbing eyes of his.
"Make yourself what you will. It is your right."
"I know," quietly. "Will you help me?"
Mitchell laughed again. The Doctor turned now, in a passion,--
"You know, Mitchell, I have not the means. You know, if I had, it is in
my heart to take this boy and educate him for"----
"The glory of God, and the glory of John May."
May did not speak for a moment; then, controlled, he said,--
"Why should one be raised, when myriads are left?--I have not the money,
boy," to Wolfe, shortly.
"Money?" He said it over slowly, as one repeals the guessed answer to a
riddle, doubtfully. "That is it? Money?"
"Yes, money,--that is it," said Mitchell, rising, and drawing his
furred coat about him. "You've found the cure for all the world's
diseases.--Come, May, find your good-humor, and come home. This damp
wind chills my very bones. Come and preach your Saint-Simonian doctrines
to-morrow to Kirby's hands. Let them have a clear idea of the rights of
the soul, and I'll venture next week they'll strike for higher wages.
That will be the end of it."
"Will you send the coach-driver to this side of the mills?" asked Kirby,
turning to Wolfe.
He spoke kindly: it was his habit to do so. Deborah, seeing the puddler
go, crept after him. The three men waited outside. Doctor May walked up
and down, chafed. Suddenly he stopped.
"Go back, Mitchell! You say the pocket and the heart of the world speak
without meaning to these people. What has its head to say? Taste,
culture, refinement? Go!"
Mitchell was leaning against a brick wall. He turned his head
indolently, and looked into the mills. There hung about the place a
thick, unclean odor. The slightest motion of his hand marked that he
perceived it, and his insufferable disgust. That was all. May said
nothing, only quickened his angry tramp.
"Besides," added Mitchell, giving a corollary to his answer, "it would
be of no use. I am not one of them."
"You do not mean"--said May, facing him.
"Yes, I mean just that. Reform is born of need, not pity. No vital
movement of the people's has worked down, for good or evil; fermented,
instead, carried up the heaving, cloggy mass. Think back through
history, and you will know it. What will this lowest deep--thieves,
Magdalens, negroes--do with the light filtered through ponderous Church
creeds, Baconian theories, Goethe schemes? Some day, out of their bitter
need will be thrown up their own light-bringer,--their Jean Paul, their
Cromwell, their Messiah."
"Bah!" was the Doctor's inward criticism. However, in practice, he
adopted the theory; for, when, night and morning, afterwards, he prayed
that power might be given these degraded souls to rise, he glowed at
heart, recognizing an accomplished duty.
Wolfe and the woman had stood in the shadow of the works as the coach
drove off. The Doctor had held out his hand in a frank, generous way,
telling him to "take care of himself, and to remember it was his right
to rise." Mitchell had simply touched his hat, as to an equal, with a
quiet look of thorough recognition. Kirby had thrown Deborah some money,
which she found, and clutched eagerly enough. They were gone now, all
of them. The man sat down on the cinder-road, looking up into the murky
"'T be late, Hugh. Wunnot hur come?"
He shook his head doggedly, and the woman crouched out of his sight
against the wall. Do you remember rare moments when a sudden
light flashed over yourself, your world, God? when you stood on a
mountain-peak, seeing your life as it might have been, as it is? one
quick instant, when custom lost its force and every-day usage? when your
friend, wife, brother, stood in a new light? your soul was bared, and
the grave,--a foretaste of the nakedness of the Judgment-Day? So it came
before him, his life, that night. The slow tides of pain he had borne
gathered themselves up and surged against his soul. His squalid daily
life, the brutal coarseness eating into his brain, as the ashes into
his skin: before, these things had been a dull aching into his
consciousness; to-night, they were reality. He griped the filthy red
shirt that clung, stiff with soot, about him, and tore it savagely from
his arm. The flesh beneath was muddy with grease and ashes,--and the
heart beneath that! And the soul? God knows.
Then flashed before his vivid poetic sense the man who had left
him,--the pure face, the delicate, sinewy limbs, in harmony with all he
knew of beauty or truth. In his cloudy fancy he had pictured a Something
like this. He had found it in this Mitchell, even when he idly scoffed
at his pain: a Man all-knowing, all-seeing, crowned by Nature,
reigning,--the keen glance of his eye falling like a sceptre on other
men. And yet his instinct taught him that he too--He! He looked at
himself with sudden loathing, sick, wrung his hands with a cry, and then
was silent. With all the phantoms of his heated, ignorant fancy, Wolfe
had not been vague in his ambitious. They were practical, slowly built
up before him out of his knowledge of what he could do. Through years
he had day by day made this hope a real thing to himself,--a clear,
projected figure of himself, as he might become.
Able to speak, to know what was best, to raise these men and women
working at his side up with him: sometimes he forgot this defined hope
in the frantic anguish to escape,--only to escape,--out of the wet, the
pain, the ashes, somewhere, anywhere,--only for one moment of free air
on a hill-side, to lie down and let his sick soul throb itself out in
the sunshine. But to-night he panted for life. The savage strength of
his nature was roused; his cry was fierce to God for justice.
"Look at me!" he said to Deborah, with a low, bitter laugh, striking his
puny chest savagely. "What am I worth, Deb? Is it my fault that I am no
better? My fault? My fault?"
He stopped, stung with a sudden remorse, seeing her hunchback shape
writhing with sobs. For Deborah was crying thankless tears, according to
the fashion of women.
"God forgi' me, woman! Things go harder wi' you nor me. It's a worse
He got up and helped her to rise; and they went doggedly down the muddy
street, side by side.
"It's all wrong," he muttered, slowly,--"all wrong! I dunnot
understan'. But it'll end some day."
"Come home, Hugh!" she said, coaxingly; for he had stopped, looking
"Home,--and back to the mill!" He went on saying this over to himself,
as if he would mutter down every pain in this dull despair.
She followed him through the fog, her blue lips chattering with cold.
They reached the cellar at last. Old Wolfe had been drinking since she
went out, and had crept nearer the door. The girl Janey slept heavily In
the corner. He went up to her, touching softly the worn white arm with
his fingers. Some bitterer thought stung him, as he stood there. He
wiped the drops from his forehead, and went into the room beyond, livid,
trembling. A hope, trifling, perhaps, but very dear, had died just then
out of the poor puddler's life, as he looked at the sleeping, innocent
girl,--some plan for the future, in which she had borne a part. He gave
it up that moment, then and forever. Only a trifle, perhaps, to us: his
face grew a shade paler,--that was all. But, somehow, the man's soul, as
God and the angels looked down on it, never was the same afterwards.
Deborah followed him into the inner room. She carried a candle, which
she placed on the floor, dosing the door after her. She had seen the
look on his face, as he turned away: her own grew deadly. Yet, as she
came up to him, her eyes glowed. He was seated on an old chest, quiet,
holding his face in his hands.
"Hugh!" she said, softly.
He did not speak.
"Hugh, did hur hear what the man said,--him with the clear voice? Did
hur hear? Money, money,--that it wud do all?"
He pushed her away,--gently, but he was worn out; her rasping tone
The candle flared a pale yellow light over the cobwebbed brick walls,
and the woman standing there. He looked at her. She was young, in deadly
earnest; her faded eyes, and wet, ragged figure caught from their
frantic eagerness a power akin to beauty.
"Hugh, it is true! Money ull do it! Oh, Hugh, boy, listen till me! He
said it true! It is money!"
"I know. Go back! I do not want you here."
"Hugh, it is t' last time. I 'II never worrit hur again."
There were tears in her voice now, but she choked them back.
"Hear till me only to-night! If one of t' witch people wud come, them we
heard of t' home, and gif hur all hur wants, what then? Say, Hugh!"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean money.".
Her whisper shrilled through his brain.
"If one of t' witch dwarfs wud come from t' lane moors to-night, and gif
hur money, to go out,--_out_, I say,--out, lad, where t' sun shines, and
t' heath grows, and t' ladies walk in silken gownds, and God stays all
t' time,--where t' man lives that talked to us to-night,--Hugh knows,
--Hugh could walk there like a king!"
He thought the woman mad, tried to check her, but she went on, fierce in
her eager haste.
"If _I_ were t' witch dwarf, if I had f money, wud hur thank me? Wud hur
take me out o' this place wid hur and Janey? I wud not come into the
gran' house hur wud build, to vex hur wid t' hunch,--only at night, when
t' shadows were dark, stand far off to see hur."
Mad? Yes! Are many of us mad in this way?
"Poor Deb! poor Deb!" he said, soothingly.
"It is here," she said, suddenly jerking into his hand a small roll.
"I took it! I did it! Me, me!--not hur! I shall be hanged, I shall be
burnt in hell, if anybody knows I took it! Out of his pocket, as he
leaned against t' bricks. Hur knows?"
She thrust it into his hand, and then, her errand done, began to gather
chips together to make a fire, choking down hysteric sobs.
"Has it come to this?"
That was all he said. The Welsh Wolfe blood was honest. The roll was a
small green pocket-book containing one or two gold pieces, and a check
for an incredible amount, as it seemed to the poor puddler. He laid it
down, hiding his face again in his hands.
"Hugh, don't be angry wud me! It's only poor Deb,--hur knows?"
He took the long skinny fingers kindly in his.
"Angry? God help me, no! Let me sleep. I am tired."
He threw himself heavily down on the wooden bench, stunned with pain and
weariness. She brought some old rags to cover him.
It was late on Sunday evening before he awoke. I tell God's truth, when
I say he had then no thought of keeping this money. Deborah had hid it
in his pocket. He found it there. She watched him eagerly, as he took it
"I must gif it to him," he said, reading her face.
"Hur knows," she said with a bitter sigh of disappointment. "But it is
hur right to keep it."
His right! The word struck him. Doctor May had used the same. He washed
himself, and went out to find this man Mitchell. His right! Why did this
chance word cling to him so obstinately? Do you hear the fierce devils
whisper in his ear, as he went slowly down the darkening street?
The evening came on, slow and calm. He seated himself at the end of
an alley leading into one of the larger streets. His brain was clear
to-night, keen, intent, mastering. It would not start back, cowardly,