Feb. 23, 1867.
THE DREADFUL RUSSIAN BATH
I ONLY got over a calamitous cold in the head yesterday, and to-day I felt like the breaking up of a hard winter. I had the blues; and a ceaseless drumming and ringing in the ears; and a deadening oppression of the brain, and a horrible sense of suffocation. The weather was cold, and the gases from the villainous coal fire were stifling. Beside all these little inconveniences, my thoughts persistently ran on funerals and suicide. I was in a fit frame of mind for any desperate enterprise, and with a recklessness that even stirred a sort of dull admiration within me, I resolved to go and take a bath.
In five minutes I was breasting the frosty wind and ploughing through the soft new snow, and in fifteen I stumbled upon the place where they keep the monster they call the Russian Bath. This was rather more than I bargained for, but I hesitated only a moment, and went in. I went up stairs, in the stylish building, and along a carpeted hall, and entered a large and sumptuously furnished and decorated drawing-room, with pictures hung round the walls, and a general air of comfort and luxury visible all about the place that could not be otherwise than exasperating to a man in my frame of mind. A very polite man entered my name in a book, taxed me a dollar and a quarter, took charge of my watch and portmonnaie, gave me a ticket and turned me over to an attendant, who conducted me into another part of the house and gave me a neat stateroom wherein to undress. When I came out of there, a fine healthy young descendant of Adam (I think he was a descendant of Adam because he hadn't anything on but a fig-leaf made of a rag), took me into a large apartment that was as hot as sin, and gave me a basin of cold water to wash my face in, and a cup of ice water to drink, and then left me. The place had a latticed floor, and a great plunge bath in the middle of it, and two long rows of high, broad marble benches running down the sides - a sort of stairways that reached half way up to the ceiling. The room began to fill with steam, and I began to sweat. I oozed drops of water from every pore as large as marbles - marbles of the small kind. I climbed up on one bench, and then on the next, and finally to the third - and the higher I went the hotter it got. The fog grew thicker and thicker, till the gas lights were only faint blurs in the mist. I could not breathe through my nose any more, because the steam was so thick; I had to inhale it through my mouth - and if I hadn't had a mouth like a ship's hatchway, I must have suffocated anyhow. I was a little scared, thinking about steamboat explosions and such things, because I knew I was carrying about a hundred and sixty pounds of steam to the square inch, and if I ever shut down my throttle-valve for a single moment I was bound to collapse a flue. But it was a comfort to me to know that I had got such a head on by this time that if I did let go I would be likely to blow the most of that bath-house over into Jersey somewhere.
At this critical period Adam appeared, and I was uncommon glad to see him, notwithstanding he loomed so vaguely through the shrouding mist that I could not swear I saw him at all. He put me under a cold shower-bath and turned a deluge loose on me. But it felt good. Next he laid me on a marble bench, and soaped and scrubbed me all over with an implement that was rough for a brush but soft for a curry-comb. I got another shower-bath after this, and then the outcast stood me up and shot me in the back with a spray of hot water that made me face around - well, quick, as you might say - and instantly shot me with a spray of ice water - and when I whirled again I caught a blast of hot air above, a spray of hot water below, and a jet of ice water like a thousand needles in the middle. This operation makes a man get around as spry as anything I know of. But it is exquisite torture. Then this inhuman Russian posted me in a corner and discharged a volley of boiling hot and ice-cold streams of water against every part of my body. To say that this makes a man frisky, is to use language of unspeakable tameness. Then I was told to jump into the plunge bath. I said with some irony, that if I was to go into a furnace next, and afterwards into an ice-chest and then suffer an earthquake and be struck by lightning, I would prefer to tackle those outrages first and get them off my mind, if it would be all the same to the Russian Bath Company. But the foreigner said no, and looked perplexed - delicate sarcasm always perplexes a foreigner - and I plunged in. After this, I had to climb up on the marble benches and sweat and steam and cook again for fifteen minutes, and then Adam came back and put me through the same old complicated system of tortures again, winding up with a Niagara of a shower-bath that must have washed all my sins away - unless they had got caked on me - because I felt like a regenerated man a moment afterward. Adam took me into a room of gentler temperature next, and rubbed me down with coarse towels; laid me on a couch and rubbed me with his hands and kneaded me all over with his knuckles as if I were dough; and sprung all my joints and tried to pull my limbs out by the roots. Then he brushed me gently all over with a soft brush, and finally sat me up and scratched and scratched and scratched my head for ten minutes, with his finger nails; but I had him there - he never caught anything.
I dressed and went into the drawing room and got my valuables, and as the polite Superintendent insisted and insisted and insisted on my taking a drink with him - he asked me once, anyway - I did take just a small taste to make him happy, and went my way. I appreciated that young man, because politeness to a stranger is rare in New York.
The sharp wintry wind never felt so bracing or smelled so delicious as it did when I went striding up the street, and if there was anything dismal or cheerless about this old world, it was not present to any of my senses then. The Russian bath will do.
MISS ANNA DICKINSON
I went to hear this famous lecturer the other night, and was mightily pleased. She spoke in the Cooper Institute, to an audience of 2,500 persons. Peter Cooper brought her on the stage, and Horace Greeley introduced her. She had on a heavy cherry colored silk dress, cut very plainly, and lace cravat and cuffs. Her thick, straight hair is short - only just touches her collar behind. Her dress was suited to a middle-aged person, her hair to a girl, and her face to one sometimes, and sometimes to the other. I cannot possibly guess her age - she looked old at first, and young upon a better acquaintance. However, she cannot be over twenty-two or three. There is nothing especially noticeable about her features, taken in detail, except that her eyes look rather unusually deep-set. She talks fast, uses no notes what ever, never hesitates for a word, always gets the right word in the right place, and has the most perfect confidence in herself. Indeed, her sentences are remarkably smoothly-woven and felicitous. Her vim, her energy, her determined look, her tremendous earnestness, would compel the respect and the attention of an audience, even if she spoke in Chinese - would convince a third of them, too, even though she used arguments that would not stand analysis. She keeps close to her subject, reasons well, and makes every point without fail. Her prose poetry charms, her eloquence thrills, her pathos often moves to tears, her satire cuts to the quick, and she hath a certain grim humor that affords an uneasy sort of enjoyment - uneasy, because one feels that when she lightens that way she is going to storm directly. She has got one defect, which you may notice in all women who make speeches: frequently, after she has got her audience wrought up ready to explode with enthusiasm, she does not spring her grand climax upon them at the precious instant, but drags toward it so slowly that by the time she reaches it they are nearly cooled down to a dignified self-possession again. But perhaps she does not want applause - she never stops for it, at any rate, but goes on talking in the midst of it.
The aim of her speech was to call the attention of the people to the meagre number of avenues to an honest livelihood that are permitted to women, and the drudging, unintellectual character of those employments, and to demand, as simple justice to her sex, that those avenues be multiplied till women may earn their bread elsewhere than in kitchens and factories without unsexing themselves. She did her work well. She made a speech worth listening to.
Her sarcasm bites. I do not know but that it is her best card. She will make a right venomous old maid some day, I am afraid. She said that she was arguing upon her favorite subject with a self-sufficient youth one day, and she silenced his guns one after another till at last he staked his all upon one powerful proposition: "Would you have all women strong-minded?" "No!" she thundered, "God forbid that the millions of men of your calibre that cumber the earth should be doomed to travel its weary ways unmated!"
Miss Dickinson is paid very high figures for lecturing, and does a good deal of it. She has drudged with her hands, though, in her day; she said the first money she ever earned was two shillings - for scrubbing two pavements. They say she was born in Philadelphia, but she says nyther and ither, like women from beyond the Atlantic, and wanders into a brogue frequently that sounds very like Irish.
WHAT SIX YEARS HAVE WROUGHT
They have increased the population of New York and its suburbs a quarter of a million souls. They have built up her waste places with acres upon acres of costly buildings. They have made five thousand men wealthy, and for a good round million of her citizens they have made it a matter of the closest kind of scratching to get along in the several spheres of life to which they belong. The brown-stone fronter and the rag-picker of the Five Points have about an even thing of it; the times are as hard for one as for the other; both struggle desperately to hold their places, and both grumble and grieve to much the same tune. What advantage there is, though, is all in favor of the rag-picker - he can only starve or freeze, but the other can lose caste, which is worse.
The old, genuine, travelled, cultivated, pedigreed aristocracy of New York, stand stunned and helpless under the new order of things. They find themselves supplanted by upstart princes of Shoddy, vulgar and with unknown grandfathers. The incomes, which were something for the common herd to gape at and gossip about once, are mere livelihoods now - would not pay Shoddy's house-rent. They move into remote new streets up town, and talk feelingly of the crash which is to come when the props are knocked from under this flimsy edifice of prosperity. And, to tell the truth, a part of the crash is already here; and the sooner it comes in its might and restores the old, sure, plodding prosperity, the better. Heavy failures are frequent, but people seem to dislike to talk about them - dread the subject, maybe. If everybody goes to Paris in the summer, that movement will not assist any in keeping up the present ruinous prices of living. Government is helping to bring the crash, too. She is drawing all idle capital away from public improvements and other great new enterprises. Her bonds pay better and surer interest than railroad investments, mortgages, etc., and the money is not taxed. People grumble bitterly that they cannot borrow money against such formidable competition as the U. S. Government. Everything is high. That was well enough in war time, when a million men in full employment under Government pay made help scarce and money plenty as dust. But now, with that million discharged, of course help is plenty and money scarce. Yet all hands conspire to keep up prices. No man can afford to be the first to make a move toward lowering the figures.
You pay twelve hundred dollars rental, now, for the dwelling you used to get for five or six hundred. For a store you pay - well, you pay all you can make, and then turn your stock of goods over to your landlord at the end of the year. One firm here had occupied the same premises many years - a firm of sixty years standing. They used to pay $3,000; during the war the figure went up to $6,000; was raised afterwards to $12,000; this year they were told they must pay $18,000 or move. They moved.
You pay $20 to $25 and $30 a week for the same sort of private board and lodging you got for $8 and $10 when I was here thirteen years ago. You can board and lodge at the best hotels in the city for the same money - $4.50 a day. Still, both the hotels and the boarding houses are all full.
Butter is worth sixty cents a pound, eggs sixty cents a dozen, and other things about the same. What they call good cigars are three or four for a dollar. A dozen raw oysters are worth from forty to eighty cents, according to where you buy them. An oyster stew is worth from twenty to forty cents. You pay twenty cents to get shaved; six cents to ride in the horse-cars and ten in the omnibuses. Beggars charge two cents now. Crossing-sweeps demand toll going and coming, both. An old woman had a peanut shelf in a contracted corner - rent, $25 a month; they raised her to $50; she stood the raise and continued business; then they raised her to $75, and this time they raised her out.
Simple, "straight" whiskey, gin, and such things, are fifteen cents; brandy and mixed beverages, twenty-five, (and they don't know how to mix them - besides their whiskey is bound to make a temperance man of a toper in a year or kill him.) If you order a glass of champagne, you must pay for the whole bottle. Peanuts, hickory nuts and roast chestnuts are twenty cents a pint - say $25 a bushel - used to be worth two or three dollars. A choice seat in the theatre costs $1.50, and I suppose they would tax you to let you blow your nose anywhere within the city limits. Hackmen charge you $2.50 to take you around the block, or $10 to S12 a day. Late at night they charge you what they please. Pew rent is just about as high as house rent. Therefore, few men can afford to indulge in matrimony and religion both. In a word, I find that with due moderation, a single man can get along after a fashion for forty to fifty dollars a week. God help the married ones! Independent ! You never saw such an independent set in your life as landlords, barbers, bar-keepers and tradesmen are. They don't care a cent whether you go, stay, buy or let it alone. I think they have sent agents far and near and drummed up all the worthless barbers in the world and set them up in New York. I believe they sharpen their razors on the curbstone. They snatch all the beard out of your face in about two minutes, swab your jaws a little with a damp rag, put a microscopic drop of oil on your hair, give it one rub forward, another backward, and a third sideways, stack it up in a ragged pile on top of your head like a Street Commissioner's monument, and let you go. And you go, hoping your beard will never grow again.
But the popular bar-keeper is the serenest villain of the lot. You have seen a vile, infernal waiter stand staring at vacancy with his complacent, exasperating smirk, pretending he didn't know you had been trying to attract his attention for ten minutes - well, the popular bar-keeper mimics that to a charm. He even improves on it. When a party of gentlemen finally get him to notice them after much rattling of glasses, he don't bow and smile and say "What will you have, gentlemen?" But he turns languidly upon them with an expression of countenance obtrusively intended to inform them that he knew they were calling all the time, and then stares impertinently at them without a word. That means, "Well, if you are going to name your drinks, you had better do it, that's all!" It has a most excellent tendency - it soon stops people from drinking.
If a man asks the popular cigar-vendor "Which are the best?" he intimates that he isn't paid to choose cigars for people, or relieves his mind of some similar incivility. Prosperity is the surest breeder of insolence I know of.
New Yorkers are singular people, somehow or other. Here, in their own home, they have the name among strangers of being excessively unsociable; but take them in any part of the world, outside their State limits, and they are the most liberal, pleasant and companionable people you can find. However, if I take my personal experience instead of the evidence of others, I must confess that I cannot find any fault with them here in their home, any more than I could abroad.
Tom. Maguire' arrived here yesterday (February 22d) and to-night his Japs. will attend the "Black Crook" performance in full costume. He has secured no theatre yet.
June Booth has taken the Boston Theatre for two years, and in a little while will be married to Aggy Perry, so well known to California theatre-goers.
Return to Alta index