Feb. 2d, 1867.
THE OVERGROWN METROPOLIS
THE only trouble about this town is, that it is too large. You cannot accomplish anything in the way of business, you cannot even pay a friendly call, without devoting a whole day to it - that is, what people call a whole day who do not get up early. Many business men only give audience from eleven to one; therefore, if you miss those hours your affair must go over till next day. Now if you make the time at one place, even though you stay only ten or fifteen minutes, you can hardly get to your next point, because so many things and people will attract your attention and your conversation and curiosity, that the other three quarters of that hour will be frittered away. You have but one hour left, and my experience is that a man cannot go anywhere in New York in an hour. The distances are too great - you must have another day to it. If you have got six things to do, you have got to take six days to do them in.
If you live below Twenty-fifth street, you are "down town;" and if you live anywhere between that and Seven Hundred and Seventy-fifth street (I don't know how far they run - have quit trying to find out), you will never get down town with out walking the legs off yourself. You cannot ride. I mean you cannot ride unless you are willing to go in a packed omnibus that labors, and plunges, and struggles along at the rate of three miles in four hours and a half, always getting left behind by fast walkers, and always apparently hopelessly tangled up with vehicles that are trying to get to some place or other and can't. Or, if you can stomach it, you can ride in a horse-car and stand up for three-quarters of an hour, in the midst of a file of men that extends from front to rear (seats all crammed, of course,) - or you can take one of the platforms, if you please, but they are so crowded you will have to hang on by your eye-lashes and your toe-nails.
I room in East Sixteenth street, and I walk. It is a mighty honest walk from there to anywhere else, and very destructive to legs, but then the omnibuses are too slow during this mixed rainy, snowy, slushy and hard-frozen weather, and the cars too full - there is never room for another person by the time they get this far down town. The cars do not run in Broadway, any how, and I do not like to wander out of that street. I always get lost when I do. The town is all changed since I was here, thirteen years ago, when I was a pure and sinless sprout. The streets wind in and out, and this way and that way, in the most bewildering fashion, and two of them will suddenly come together and clamp the last house between them so close, and whittle the end of it down so sharp, that it looms up like the bow of a steam ship, and you have to shut one eye to see it. The streets are so crooked in the lower end of town that if you take one and follow it faithfully you will eventually fetch up right where you started from.
THE MODEL ARTISTS
When I was here in '53, a model artist show had an ephemeral existence in Chatham street, and then everybody growled about it, and the police broke it up; at the same period "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was in full blast in the same street, and had already run one hundred and fifty nights. Everybody went there in elegant toilettes and cried over Tom's griefs. But now, things are changed. The model artists play nightly to admiring multitudes at famous Niblo's Garden, in great Broadway - have played one hundred and fifty nights and will play one hundred and fifty nights more, no doubt - and Uncle Tom draws critical, self-possessed groups of negroes and children at Barnum's Museum. I fear me I shall have to start a moral missionary society here. Don't you suppose those friends of mine in San Francisco were jesting, when they warned me to be very choice in my language, if I ever lectured here, lest I might offend?
In '53 they called that horrid, immoral show I was speaking of, the "Model Artists," and people wouldn't go to see it. But now they call that sort of thing a "Grand Spectacular Drama," and everybody goes. It is all in a name. And it is about as spectacular as anything I ever saw without sinking right into the earth with outraged modesty. It is the wickedest show you can think of. You see there is small harm in exhibiting a pack of painted old harlots, swathed in gauze, like the original model artistes, for no man careth a cent for them but to laugh and jeer at them. Nakedness itself, in such a case, would be nothing worse than disgusting. But I warn you that when they put beautiful clipper-built girls on the stage in this new fashion, with only just barely clothes enough on to be tantalizing, it is a shrewd invention of the devil. It lays a heavier siege to public morals than all the legitimate model artist shows you can bring into action.
The name of this new exhibition that so touches my missionary sensibilities, is the "Black Crook." The scenic effects - the waterfalls, cascades, fountains, oceans, fairies, devils, hells, heavens, angels - are gorgeous beyond anything ever witnessed in America, perhaps, and these things attract the women and the girls. Then the endless ballets and splendid tableaux, with seventy beauties arrayed in dazzling half-costumes; and displaying all possible compromises between nakedness and decency, capture the men and boys - and so Niblo's has taken in twenty four hundred dollars a night, (seven nights and a matinee a week,) for five months, and sometimes twenty-seven hundred dollars. It is claimed that a multitude equal to the entire population of the State of California, Chinamen included, have visited this play. The great Herald newspaper pitched into it, and a sensation parson preached a sermon against it; this was sufficient to advertise it all over the continent, and so the proprietor's for tune was made.
The scenery and the legs are everything; the actors who do the talking are the wretchedest sticks on the boards. But the fairy scenes - they fascinate the boys! Beautiful bare-legged girls hanging in flower baskets; others stretched in groups on great sea shells; others clustered around fluted columns; others in all possible attitudes; girls - nothing but a wilderness of girls - stacked up, pile on pile, away aloft to the dome of the theatre, diminishing in size and clothing, till the last row, mere children, dangle high up from invisible ropes, arrayed only in a camisa. The whole tableau resplendent with columns, scrolls, and a vast ornamental work, wrought in gold, silver and brilliant colors - all lit up with gorgeous theatrical fires, and witnessed through a great gauzy curtain that counterfeits a soft silver mist! It is the wonders of the Arabian Nights realized.
Those girls dance in ballet, dressed with a meagreness that would make a parasol blush. And they prance around and expose themselves in a way that is scandalous to me. Moreover, they come trooping on the stage in platoons and battalions, in most princely attire I grant you, but always with more tights in view than anything else. They change their clothes every fifteen minutes for four hours, and their dresses become more beautiful and more rascally all the time.
ALL DRAMADOM AFFECTED
I have been sitting here blushing so long that I might as well finish the subject, now. The Worrell Sisters, (at the Broad way,) are playing a fairy piece, also, which enables them to undress to suit the popular taste. However, they do not take off enough, by any means, and so they cannot hope to achieve supreme success.
But our Sallie Hinckley, late of San Francisco, discounts the "Black Crook." She is playing a nude fairy piece, also, and in the last act she makes a lovely statue of herself, and stands aloft before the audience, and dressed about like the Menken. She looks very beautiful - but heaven help her assistants! She has got about thirty padded, painted, slab-sided, lanternjawed old hags with her who are so mortal homely that nothing tastes good to them. And to see those lank, blear-eyed leathery old scalliwags come out and hop around in melancholy dance, with their cheap, ragged, nine-inch dress-tails flapping in the air - Oh, it is worth going miles to see! And when one of them finishes her poor little shindig and makes her wind up stamp in the orthodox way, sticking out a slipper like a horse trough, with a criminal attempt at grace, I want to snatch a double-barrelled shot-gun and go after the whole tribe.
Edwin Booth and the legitimate drama still draw immense houses, but the signs of the times convince me that he will have to make a little change by-and-by and peel some women. Nothing else can chain the popular taste, the way things are going now.
THE BEWITCHING NEW FASHIONS
Who shall describe the exquisite taste and beauty of the new style of ladies' walking dresses? Taken as a class, women can contrive more outlandish and ugly costumes than one would think possible without the gift of inspiration. But this time they have been felicitous in invention. The wretched waterfall still remains, of course, but in a modified form; every change it has undergone was for the better. First it represented a bladder of scotch snuff; next it hung down the woman's back like a canvas covered ham; afterwards it contracted, and counterfeited a turnip on the back of the head; now it sticks straight out behind, and looks like a wire muzzle on a greyhound. Nestling in the midst of this long stretch of head and hair reposes the little batter cake of a bonnet, like a jockey-saddle on a race-horse. You will readily perceive that this looks very unique, and pretty, and coquettish. But the glory of the costume is the robe - the dress. No furbelows, no flounces, no biases, no ruffles, no gores, no flutter wheels, no hoops to speak of - nothing but a rich, plain, narrow black dress, terminating just below the knees in long saw-teeth, (points downwards,) and under it a flaming red skirt, enough to put your eyes out, that reaches down only to the ankle-bone, and exposes the restless little feet. Charming, fascinating, seductive, bewitching To see a lovely girl of seventeen, with her saddle on her head, and her muzzle on behind, and her veil just covering the end of her nose, come tripping along in her hoopless, red-bottomed dress, like a churn on fire, is enough to set a man wild. I must drop this subject - I can't stand it.
THE CENTURY CLUB
By permission, I visited the Century Club last night. The most unspeakably respectable Club in the United States, perhaps. It was storming like everything, and I thought there would necessarily be a small attendance, but this was not the case; the reading and supper rooms were crowded, and with the distinguished artists, authors and amateurs of New York. I averaged the heads, and they went three sizes larger than the style of heads I have been accustomed to. In one of the smaller rooms they averaged best - thirteen heads out of the twenty-seven present were what I choose to call prodigious. I never felt so subjugated in my life. And I was never so ashamed of wearing an 8 1/4 before. Many of these gentlemen were old, but very few of them bald - isn't that singular? It isn't that way in California. Most men are bald there, young and old. You know of a Sunday when it rains, and the women cannot go out, a church congregation looks like a skating pond. It is just on account of the shiny bald heads - nothing else.
Article I of the Constitution will inform you of the character of the
"This Association shall be composed of authors, artists and amateurs of letters and the fine arts."
This has a tendency to exclude parties who have bank accounts and pedigree, but no brains. It is too thundering exclusive.
The Club is ten years old. Its membership is limited to 500, its list is full, and when vacancies occur there are always a number of candidates patiently waiting to fill them. One visitor told me he had been waiting three years, but expected to get in some time or other. I have some idea of putting in my application - I won't need to belong till I get old.
The initiation fee is $100, and dues $3 a month. The Club owns the premises (a three-story brick) and forty feet of vacant ground adjoining, whereon they mean to build, and $40,000 in bank. Conversation there is instructive and entertaining, and the brandy punches are good, and so are the lunches. What more could a man want?
Bancroft, the historian, is President of the Club, and was on duty last night. Among the list of members I observed the following names - many others are distinguished both here and on your side of the continent, but you know these best, perhaps: Edwin Booth, Wm. H. Aspinwall, H. W. Bellows, C. Astor Bristed, Albert Bierstadt, Wm. Cullen Bryant, E. H. Chapin, J. H. Cheever, Church, the painter, F. O. C. Darley, Frederick S. Cozzens, Geo. W. Curtis, Ashar B. Durand, Cyrus W. Field, Parke Godwin, Wilson G. Hunt, Thos. McElrath, Fred. Law Olmstead, Putnam, the publisher, Edmund C. Stedman, A. T. Stewart, Stoddard, the poet, Launt Thompson, Bayard Taylor, Julian C. Verplanck, Lester Wallack, and so forth and so on. There is a constellation of celebrated names for you! I carried away some of the hats with me for specimens. They average about No. 11.
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