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FREQUENCY OF FIRES.
engines to subdue the flames, and more than a hundred families were thus thrown naked and houseless into the streets, in a night of the severest cold we had yet experienced for the winter.
The indifference with which all this is regarded is almost as painful as the frequent occurrence of the calamity itself, because it shows the utter want of that most amiable of all social qualities, sympathy in the sufferings of others, and a desire to relieve them in their distress. It is a custom in this city, when a fire breaks out, for the bell of the City Hall to be rung in a particular manner, so as to indicate the locality of the fire, while the other churches have their bells rung in a different manner, merely to apprize the town of the event. In any other city than this, the ringing of these bells would excite great attention; but the very frequency with which fires occur is urged as an excuse for taking no notice of them; and it is a common saying, "that the only fit test of determining whether a person should disturb himself on hearing the bells ringing and engines rattling along the pavement, is this: to put his hand up to the wall at the head of his bed, and if it be very hot, it is time to move; but if not, he had better remain where he is." That fires produced by incendiaries are not confined to New-York, however, the following paragraph, taken from the New-York Sun of January 31, will show.
"On the morning of the 22d instant, no less than three of the principal stables in the most thickly-settled part of Somerset, Pennsylvania, were set fire to by incendiaries. That in the stable from which the most destruction would have spread fortunately went out; the other two stables were consumed, together with nine valuable horses, a number of cows, carriages, grain, hay, &c. The citizens of Somerset have since held a meeting in reference to the matter, and offer a reward of 500 dollars for the detection of the incendiaries."
In such a state of society as this, it may be readily imagined that there is abundant occupation for the members of the legal profession; and such is the fact, as well as for the agents of the police. It may be thought that the existence of highwaymen, not merely in the neighbourhood of NewYork, but actually in the city itself, would be incredible; but, in addition to several instances verbally related to me of such desperate persons attacking individuals on the road and robbing them, the following announcement from the New-York Sun of February 2, 1838, puts the matter beyond doubt.
"LOOK OUT FOR HIGHWAYMEN UP TOWN.
"A gentleman passing down Tenth-street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, about nine o'clock on Tuesday night, was violently assaulted by a villain who sprung over the fence, and, without provocation, aimed a heavy blow at his head, which he escaped by stooping; his hat only being knocked off, as his head would have stood a strong chance of being, had it met the ruffian's club. A watchman promptly answered the assailed gentleman's call for aid, and the vagabond was secured at the upper police office; but the earnest entreaties of his wife, and the prospective trouble and hinderance a prosecution would occasion him, induced the gentleman not to proceed against the ruffian, and he was discharged. We mention the circumstance to put people on their guard while passing through that part of the city after dark."
It may be thought that the vicious associations of a crowded city are chiefly, if not exclusively, the cause of such crimes as these; but the accounts from the country furnish too many melancholy instances of a state of morals not at all less depraved than that which prevails among the more degraded classes in the towns. It would fill a large sheet daily to give all the statements of crime and wretchedness that are brought before the public eye every morning and every evening of the week, in the journals of this city alone; but the three following extracts, taken from two papers of the same date, the Evening Post and the Transcript of February 2, 1838, will be sufficient as specimens of the kind of depravity which unhappily exists in a land blessed with a more abundant production of the necessaries of life than almost any country that can be named; where labour is more in demand, and better paid, than in any part of Europe; where millions of unoccupied tracts of land invite the cultivation of the industrious; where the institutions of the state open to every man of intelligence, industry, and integrity the honours and emoluments of the public service; where private enterprise has an almost unlimited field for its operations; and where religious professors are more numerous, religious publications more abundant, and benevolent institutions more thickly planted, than in any country under the sun; yet, in spite of all these advantages, the crime and misery that deface the land are terrible to contemplate. Here are the three paragraphs adverted to.
"HORRIBLE ATTEMPTS OF POISONING.
"The Frankfort (Ohio) Argus gives a dreadful detail of three successive poisonings by arsenic of the entire family of Dr. Helm, residing at Springborne. The writer found the doctor and his nephew, also a physician, together with Mrs. Helm, and five of the children, all suffering under the agonies of poison. The youngest child was but four weeks
STATISTICS OF CRIME.
old. The cause was using at supper cream or milk in which arsenic had been put. The persons all recovered, and the family, now suspecting that some black-hearted wretch intended to make away with them, interdicted any provisions being brought into the house but what were brought from the country. In a few days, however, they were all down again, with the burning symptoms at the pit of the stomach, and vomitings; this time introduced in the coffee or water, and the attending physician, Dr. Dubois, also one of the sufferers. They recovered: but, incredible to relate, a third attempt was now made, and proved fatal to one of the boys, by introducing the arsenic into some hominy. The post-mortem examination by nine physicians proved that arsenic was the cause, and the cream and milk above-mentioned contained large quantities of it. The neighbours flocked in to offer their sympathies, and ferret out the demon who could be guilty of such atrocities. It is devoutly to be hoped that such a monster in human shape may encounter the wrath of Heaven wherever he may be."
"On Wednesday evening, officer Driesback, of the first ward, brought up to the police a woman and a little girl about twelve years of age, mother and daughter, whom he had picked up in the street, both beastly drunk, the mother so much so that she was past talking. The magistrate asked the girl how in the world she came to be so drunk, to which she drawlingly answered, Why, mother is drunk too!' They were both sent over to bridewell to get sober. Had they not been so fortunate as to be rescued from the exposure to which their folly and helplessness had subjected them, both would have inevitably perished in the street."
"A MISERABLE SCENE.
"The watchmen in Oak-street were called on Wednesday evening to arrest a man who had been beating his wife. On entering the cellar, the men were startled by stumbling over a pine coffin. This led to an examination of the premises, and the finding a man dead on a bed, his wife beastly drunk, and one child lying by his side, and two children nearly frozen to death on the floor. The man had died during the course of the day from sickness and misery. The living parties were all taken to the watch-house, and discharged this morning, that they might bury the dead."
I had heard verbally a hundred cases, at least, of crime the most revolting, and misery the most appalling, during my stay in New-York; a large number, it must be admit ted, among the emigrant families from England, Ireland, and Scotland, as well as other foreigners, with which this city abounds, though some also among natives of the country; but, though all were communicated to me by American gentlemen long resident in the city, and of undoubted vera. city, I preferred selecting such instances as the public journals of the day furnished; because these, by their very publicity, challenged contradiction, and in no instances, as far as I could discover, was their accuracy called in question. These cannot be considered, therefore, as the libels of a prejudiced Englishman, uttered against the country in a fit of disap
pointment or of spleen, but as the grave and partial testimony of the American journals, conducted by men who are generally disposed to put the most favourable construction on everything that belongs to, or occurs within, their own country; and who always seek to present the most favourable aspect of their public affairs and private morals to those who sojourn among them.
As to the causes to which these evils may be traced, I had listened to disquisition upon disquisition in private circles; and from what I had heard and what I had seen, I had drawn my own conclusions. Some of these I have ventured to express in the preceding pages; and to others I shall from time to time give utterance, as the occasion may demand. But to answer by anticipation any imputations of unfairness or harshness of judgment which may be pronounced on such strictures by those who might be disposed to think them overcharged, I avail myself again of a native authority of good repute and extensive circulation among the middle classes of society, 30,000 copies daily being the amount of its sale in New-York alone, in which, in a leading article of the Sun of February 2, 1838, is the following frank, and, I believe, perfectly honest review of the causes and consequences of the present state of society in America:
"Enterprise has long been spoken of as a characteristic of our nation; and in the way of enterprise, Uncle Sam* certainly deserves the credit of having outstripped his older neighbours. No undertaking which promised any adequate return has, in any difficulty short of impossibility, found cause sufficient to deter us Americans. Even impossibility must be demonstrated beyond a question by a score or two of abortive attempts before it is admitted. Try' is the first word, the meaning of which is thoroughly mastered. Boys are men before they are loosed from their leading-strings. They are educated in the belief that every man must be the architect of his own fortune. There is, to be sure, a limited class, who look forward to the arrival at majority or to the decease of parents as the commencement of an era in which they will have no duty to do but to enjoy the property bequeathed them. But as a class, it is too small to be considered in the estimate of national character. The great majority look forward to manhood as the time to act, and anticipate it by juvenile participation in the events of busy life. Boys argue upon polemics, political economy, party politics, the mys teries of trade, the destinies of nations. Dreams of ambition or of wealth nerve the arm which drives the hoop; the foot, which gives the ball its impetus. Toys are stock in trade. Barter is fallen into by instinct, as a young duck takes to the water.
"There is scarcely a lad of any spirit who does not, from the time that he can connect the most simple ideas, picture to himself some rapid
"Uncle Sam" is a national term for the American people, as "John Bull" is for the English. It seems to have superseded the phrase "Brother Jonathan."
ENTERPRISE OF THE AMERICANS.
road to wealth: indefinite and obscure, it is true. But he reads the history of Girard, and of others who have amassed wealth. He sees the termini of the race: poverty at one end, affluence at the other, and jumps the intermediate years. He fancies that the course of amassing will be as easy as imagination. He dreams of dashing into a fortune by some lucky speculation. Contentment with competence he learns to regard as a slothful vice. To become rich, and, of course, respected -influential, great, powerful-is his darling object. He contemns the honest labour which was considered the road to wealth before enterprise was so rife, and, if he respects his father, he respects him as a good, honest old drudge, with oldfashioned notions, but altogether barbarous and behind the age. If maternal fondness and juvenile pertinacity in preferring requests succeed, he is launched at one-and-twenty on the sea of enterprise, with all his father's available capital embarked with him. If the old gentleman is too stubborn to yield his opinion, or if other circumstances make it imperative that he should, for a while, be content with honest but sure gains, the result of industry, he embraces the first opportunity to leave his craft for speculatio; to throw a bird in the hand away, and commence the pursuit of those in the bush. "One great cause of our present state is the almost universal contempt into which industry in producing has fallen. The agricultural states-those, we mean, which produce the direct recessaries of lifeare not half cultivated. The youthful energies which should be devoted to improving lands and the mode of culture, to embracing and practising the lessons of experience, to blending and testing the discoveries of agricultural theorists with practical altivation, are devoted, instead, to speculating in the scanty product which old lands yield under practical improvement. Even the old firmers themselves-men, one would think, clear enough of enterprise-detray that national characteristic in their grasping for territory. mey measure the value of farms, not by their productiveness, but by heir extent. They grasp territory, till the taxes on its nominal value are, contrasted with its actual wealth, a serious burden. They pursus even a more foolish course than the horder of inactive money, because, while the miser's gold pays him nothing, it costs him nothing for keeping; while the farmer's pride, in the addition of acre to acre, isan expensive investment, even aside from the purchase-money.
"In our cities, a natural consequence of this mania for speculation was the increase of banks and the distention of their issues. Banking facilities were in everybody's reach. Almost everybody was on some board of directos, or had a father, brother, cousin, friend, or acquaintance there. Where that was not the case, an endorser could be had for a premium, or the money of banks could be obtained through broker jackals.
"Now speculation in her glory walked. Jointstock companies of every possible description started into existence. City lots, town lots, highland lots, swamp lots, granite quarries, India-rubber companies, railroads, canals, and every possible description of investment were offered to absorb this redundancy of nominal currency. Associations to extract sunbeams from cucumbers, à la Swift, and moonshine from sunbeams; Texas speculations, cotton speculations, and fancy stock-gambling, drove out the legitimate business of the merchant, and even coaxed the mechanic, the student, and the professional man into the vortex-to be ruined.
"In the midst of this glare of fictitious business, luxury has been appealed to to evade thought of the future, as the gambler drinks deep while his all is at stake. Luxury and extravagance have been the curse