CHAPTER XIV. NEW YORK.
Speaking of New York as a traveler, I have two faults to find with it. In the first place, there is nothing to see; and, in the second place, there is no mode of getting about to see anything. Nevertheless, New York is a most interesting city. It is the third biggest city in the known world, for those Chinese congregations of unwinged ants are not cities in the known world. In no other city is there a population so mixed and cosmopolitan in their modes of life. And yet in no other city that I have seen are there such strong and ever visible characteristics of the social and political bearings of the nation to which it belongs. New York appears to me as infinitely more American than Boston, Chicago, or Washington. It has no peculiar attribute of its own, as have those three cities - Boston in its literature and accomplished intelligence, Chicago in its internal trade, and Washington in its Congressional and State politics. New York has its literary aspirations, its commercial grandeur, and, Heaven knows, it has its politics also. But these do not strike the visitor as being specially characteristic of the city. That it is pre-eminently American is its glory or its disgrace, as men of different ways of thinking may decide upon it. Free institutions, general education, and the ascendency of dollars are the words written on every paving-stone along Fifth Avenue, down Broadway, and up Wall Street. Every man can vote, and values the privilege. Every man can read, and uses the privilege. Every man worships the dollar, and is down before his shrine from morning to night.
As regards voting and reading, no American will be angry with me for saying so much of him; and no Englishman, whatever may be his ideas as to the franchise in his own country, will conceive that I have said aught to the dishonor of an American. But as to that dollar-worshiping, it will of course seem that I am abusing the New Yorkers. We all know what a wretchedly wicked thing money is - how it stands between us and heaven - how it hardens our hearts and makes vulgar our thoughts! Dives has ever gone to the devil, while Lazarus has been laid up in heavenly lavender. The hand that employs itself in compelling gold to enter the service of man has always been stigmatized as the ravisher of things sacred. The world is agreed about that, and therefore the New Yorker is in a bad way. There are very few citizens in any town known to me which under this dispensation are in a good way, but the New Yorker is in about the worst way of all. Other men, the world over, worship regularly at the shrine with matins and vespers, nones and complines, and whatever other daily services may be known to the religious houses; but the New Yorker is always on his knees.
That is the amount of the charge which I bring against New York; and now, having laid on my paint thickly, I shall proceed, like an unskillful artist, to scrape a great deal of it off again. New York has been a leading commercial city in the world for not more than fifty or sixty years. As far as I can learn, its population at the close of the last century did not exceed 60,000, and ten years later it had not reached 100,000. In 1860 it had reached nearly 800,000 in the City of New York itself. To this number must be added the numbers of Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and Jersey City, in order that a true conception may be had of the population of this American metropolis, seeing that those places are as much a part of New York as Southwark is of London. By this the total will be swelled to considerably above a million. It will no doubt be admitted that this growth has been very fast, and that New York may well be proud of it. Increase of population is, I take it, the only trustworthy sign of a nation's success or of a city's success. We boast that London has beaten the other cities of the world, and think that that boast is enough to cover all the social sins for which London has to confess her guilt. New York, beginning with 60,000 sixty years since, has now a million souls - a million mouths, all of which eat a sufficiency of bread, all of which speak ore rotundo, and almost all of which can read. And this has come of its love of dollars.
For myself I do not believe that Dives is so black as he is painted or that his peril is so imminent. To reconcile such an opinion with holy writ might place me in some difficulty were I a clergyman. Clergymen, in these days, are surrounded by difficulties of this nature - finding it necessary to explain away many old-established teachings which narrowed the Christian Church, and to open the door wide enough to satisfy the aspirations and natural hopes of instructed men. The brethren of Dives are now so many and so intelligent that they will no longer consent to be damned without looking closely into the matter themselves. I will leave them to settle the matter with the Church, merely assuring them of my sympathy in their little difficulties in any case in which mere money causes the hitch.