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Sometimes, indeed, you may see his small eye twinkling on a
slaughtered friend, whose carcase garnishes a butcher's door-
post, but he grunts out "Such is life: all flesh is pork!'"
buries his nose in the mire again, and waddles down the
gutter : comforting himself with the reflection that there is
one snout the less to anticipate stray cabbage-stalks, at
any rate.

They are the city scavengers, these pigs. Ugly brutes
they are ; having, for the most part, scanty brown backs,
like the lids of old horsehair trunks : spotted with unwhole-
some black blotches. They have long, gaunt legs, too, and
such peaked snouts, that if one of them could be persuaded
to sit for his profile, nobody would recognise it for a pig's
likeness. They are never attended upon, or fed, or driven,
or caught, but are thrown upon their own resources in early
life, and become preternaturally knowing in consequence.
Every pig knows where he lives, much better than anybody
could tell him. At this hour, just as evening is closing in,
you will see them roaming towards bed by scores, eating
their way to the last. Occasionally, some youth among them
who has over-eaten himself, or has been worried by dogs,
trots shrinkingly homeward, like a prodigal son : but this
is a rare case : perfect self-possession and self-reliance, and
immovable composure, being their foremost attributes.

The streets and shops are lighted now; and as the eye



QUIET STREETS. 103

travels down the long thoroughfare, dotted with bright jets
of gas, it is reminded of Oxford Street, or Piccadilly. Here
and there a flight of broad stone cellar-steps appears, and a
painted lamp directs you to the Bowling Saloon, or Ten-Pin
alley ; Ten-Pins being a game of mingled chance and skill,
invented when the legislature passed an act forbidding Nine-
Pins. At other downward flights of steps, are other lamps,
marking the whereabouts of oyster-cellars pleasant retreats,
say I : not only by reason of their wonderful cookery of
oysters, pretty nigh as large as cheese-plates (or for thy dear
sake, heartiest of Greek Professors !), but because of all
kinds of eaters of fish, or flesh, or fowl, in these latitudes,
the swallowers of oysters alone are not gregarious ; but sub-
duing themselves, as it were, to the nature of what they
work in, and copying the coyness of the thing they eat, do
sit apart in curtained boxes, and consort by twos, not by
two hundreds.

But how quiet the streets are ! Are there no itinerant
bands ; no wind or stringed instruments ? No, not one. By
day, are there no Punches, Fantoccini, Dancing-dogs, Jugglers,
Conjurers, Orchestrinas, or even Barrel-organs ? No, not one.
Yes, I remember one. One barrel-organ and a dancing-
monkey sportive by nature, but fast fading into a dull,
lumpish monkey, of the Utilitarian school. Beyond that,
nothing lively ; no, not so much as a white mouse in a
twirling cage.

Are there no amusements ? Yes. There is a lecture-room
across the way, from which that glare of light proceeds, and
there may be evening service for the ladies thrice a week, or
oftener. For the young gentlemen, there is the counting-house,
the store, the bar-room : the latter, as you may see through
these windows, pretty full. Hark ! to the clinking sound of
hammers breaking lumps of ice, and to the cool gurgling of
the pounded bits, as, in the process of mixing, they are poured
from glass to glass ! No amusements ? What are these
suckers of cigars and swallowers of strong drinks, whose hats



104 AMERICAN NOTES.

and legs we see in every possible variety of twist, doing, but
amusing themselves? What are the fifty newspapers, which
those precocious urchins are bawling down the street, and
which are kept filed within, what are they but amusements ?
Not vapid waterish amusements, but good strong stuff; dealing
in round abuse and blackguard names ; pulling off the roofs
of private houses, as the Halting Devil did in Spain ; pimping
and pandering for all degrees of vicious taste, and gorging
with coined lies the most voracious maw ; imputing to every
man in public life the coarsest and the vilest motives ; scaring
away from the stabbed and prostrate body-politic, every
Samaritan of clear conscience and good deeds ; and setting
on, with yell and whistle and the clapping of foul hands, the
vilest vermin and worst birds of prey. No amusements !

Let us go on again ; and passing this wilderness of an hotel
with stores about its base, life some Continental theatre, or
the London Opera House shorn of its colonnade, plunge into
the Five Points. But it is needful, first, that we take as our
escort these two heads of the police, whom you would know
for sharp and well-trained officers if you met them in the
Great Desert. So true it is, that certain pursuits, wherever
carried on, will stamp men with the same character. These
two might have been begotten, born, and bred, in Bow
Street.

We have seen no beggars in the streets by night or day ;
but of other kinds of strollers, plenty. Poverty, wretched-
ness, and vice, are rife enough where we are going now.

This is the place : these narrow ways, diverging to the right
and left, and reeking everywhere with dirt and filth. Such
lives as are led here, bear the same fruits here as elsewhere.
The coarse and bloated faces at the doors, have counterparts
at home, and all the wide world over. Debauchery has made
the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams
are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows
seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken
frays. Many of those pigs live here. Do they ever wonder



THE FIVE POINTS. 105

why their masters walk upright in lieu of going on all-fours ?
and why they talk instead of grunting ?

So far, nearly every house is a low tavern ; and on the
bar-room walls, are coloured prints of Washington, and
Queen Victoria of England, and the American Eagle.
Among the pigeon-holes that hold the bottles, are pieces of
plate-glass and coloured paper, for there is, in some sort, a
taste for decoration, even here. And as seamen frequent these
haunts, there are maritime pictures by the dozen : of partings
between sailors and their lady-loves, portraits of William, of
the ballad, and his Black-Eyed Susan ; of Will Watch, the
Bold Smuggler ; of Paul Jones the Pirate, and the like : on
which the painted eyes of Queen Victoria, and of Washington
to boot, rest in as strange companionship, as on most of the
scenes that are enacted in their wondering presence.

What place is this, to which the squalid street conducts
us ? A kind of square of leprous houses, some of which are
attainable only by crazy wooden stairs without. What lies
beyond this tottering flight of steps, that creak beneath our
tread? a miserable room, lighted by one dim candle, and
destitute of all comfort, save that which may be hidden in a
wretched bed. Beside it, sits a man : his elbows on his
knees : his forehead hidden in his hands. " What ails that
man ? " asks the foremost officer. " Fever, 1 * he sullenly replies,
without looking up. Conceive the fancies of a feverish brain,
in such a place as this !

Ascend these pitch-dark stall's, heedful of a false footing
on the trembling boards, and grope your way with me into
this wolfish den, where neither ray of light nor breath of air,
appears to come. A -negro lad, startled from his sleep by
the officer's voice he knows it well but comforted by his
assurance that he has not come on business, officiously bestirs
himself to light a candle. The match flickers for a moment,
and shows great mounds of dusty rags upon the ground ;
then dies away and leaves a denser darkness than before, if
there can be degrees in such extremes. He stumbles down



106 AMERICAN NOTES.

the stairs and presently comes back, shading a flaring taper
with his hand. Then the mounds of rags are seen to be astir,
and rise slowly up, and the floor is covered with heaps of
negro women, waking from their sleep : their white teeth
chattering, and their bright eyes glistening and winking on
all sides with surprise and fear, like the countless repetition
of one astonished African face in some strange mirror.

Mount up these other stairs with no less caution (there are
traps and pitfalls here, for those who are not so well escorted
as ourselves) into the housetop ; where the bare beams and
rafters meet overhead, and calm night looks down through
the crevices in the roof. Open the door of one of these
cramped hutches full of sleeping negroes. Pah ! They have
a charcoal fire within ; there is a smell of singeing clothes, or
flesh, so close they gather round the brazier ; and vapours
issue forth that blind and suffocate. From every corner, as
you glance about you in these dark retreats, some figure
crawls half-awakened, as if the judgment-hour were near at
hand, and every obscene grave were giving up its dead.
Where dogs would howl to lie, women, and men, and boys
slink oft' to sleep, forcing the dislodged rats to move away in
quest of better lodgings.

Here too are lanes and alleys, paved with mud knee-deep,
underground chambers, where they dance and game ; the
walls bedecked with rough designs of ships, and forts, and
flags, and American eagles out of number: ruined houses,
open to the street, whence, through wide gaps in the walls,
other ruins loom upon the eye, as though the world of vice
and misery had nothing else to show : hideous tenements
which take their name from robbery and murder : all that is
loathsome, drooping, and decayed is here.

Our leader has his hand upon the latch of " AkOAck's," and
calls to us from the bottom of the steps ; for the assembly-
room of the Five Point fashionables is approached by a
descent. Shall we go in ? It is but a moment.

Heyday! the landlady of Almack's thrives! A buxom



A MERRY DANCE. 107

fat mulatto woman, with sparkling eyes, whose head is
daintily ornamented with a handkerchief of many colours.
Nor is the landlord much, behind her in his finery, being
attired in a smart blue jacket, like a ship's steward, with a
thick gold ring upon his little finger, and round his neck a
gleaming golden watch-guard. How glad he is to see us !
What will we please to call for ? A dance ? It shall be
done directly, sir : " a regular break-down."

The corpulent black fiddler, and his friend who plays the
tambourine, stamp upon the boarding of the small raised
orchestra in which they sit, and play a lively measure. Five
or six couple come upon the floor, marshalled by a lively
young negro, who is the wit of the assembly, and the greatest
dancer known. He never leaves off* making queer faces, and
is the delight of all the rest, who grin from ear to ear inces-
santly. Among the dancers are two young mulatto girls,
with large, black, drooping eyes, and head-gear after the
fashion of the hostess, who are as shy, or feign to be, as
though they never danced before, and so look down before
the visitors, that their partners can see nothing but the long
fringed lashes.

But the dance commences. . Every gentleman sets as long
as he likes to the opposite lady, and the opposite lady to
him, and all are so long about it that the sport begins to
languish, when suddenly the lively hero dashes in to the
rescue. Instantly the fiddler grins, and goes at it tooth and
nail ; there is new energy in the tambourine ; new laughter
in the dancers ; new smiles in the landlady ; new confidence
in the landlord ; new brightness in the very candles. Single
shuffle, double shuffle, cut and cross-cut ; snapping his fingers,
rolling his eyes, turning in his knees, presenting the backs of
his legs in front, spinning about on his toes and heels like
nothing but the man's fingers on the tambourine ; dancing
with two left legs, two right legs, two wooden legs, two wire
legs, two spring legs all sorts of legs and no legs what is
this to him ? And in what walk of life, or dance of life, does



108 AMERICAN NOTES.

man ever get such stimulating applause as thunders about
him, when, having danced his partner off her feet, and himself
too, he finishes by leaping gloriously on the bar-counter, and
calling for something to drink, with the chuckle of a million
of counterfeit Jim Crows, in one inimitable sound !

The air, even in these distempered parts, is fresh after the
stifling atmosphere of the houses; and now, as we emerge
into a broader street, it blows upon us with a purer breath,
and the stars look bright again. Here are The Tombs once
more. The city, watch-house is a part of the building. It
follows naturally on the sights we have just left. Let us see
that, and then to bed.

What ! do you thrust your common offenders against the
police discipline of the town, into such holes as these? Do
men and women, against whom no crime is proved, lie here
all night in perfect darkness, surrounded by the noisome
vapours which encircle that flagging lamp you light us with,
and breathing this filthy and offensive stench ! Why, such
indecent and disgusting dungeons as these cells, would bring
disgrace upon the most despotic empire in the world ! Look
at them, man you, who see them every night, and keep the
keys. Do you see what they are ? Do you know how drains
are made below the streets, and wherein these human sewers
differ, except in being always stagnant ?

Well, he don't know. He has had five-and-twenty young
women locked up in this very cell at one time, and you'd
hardly realise what handsome faces there were among 'em.

In God's name ! shut the door upon the wretched creature
who is in it now, and put its screen before a place, quite
unsurpassed in all the vice, neglect, and devilry, of the worst
old town in Europe.

Are people really left all night, untried, in those black
sties ? Every night. The watch is set at seven in the even-
ing. The magistrate opens his court at five in the morning.
That is the earliest hour at which the first prisoner can be
released; and if an officer appear against him, he is not



ANOTHER PUBLIC INSTITUTION. 109

taken out till nine o'clock or ten. But if any one among
them die in the interval, as one man did, not long ago?
Then he is half-eaten by the rats in an hour's time; as that
man was ; and there an end.

What is this intolerable tolling of great bells, and crashing
of wheels, and shouting in the distance ? A fire. And what
that deep red light in the opposite direction ? Another fire.
And what these charred and blackened walls we stand before ?
A dwelling where a fire has been. It was more than hinted,
in an official report, not long ago, that some of these confla-
grations were not wholly accidental, and that speculation and
enterprise found a field of exertion, even in flames : but be
this as it may, there was a fire last night, there are two to-
night, and you may lay an even wager there will be at least
one, to-morrow. So, carrying that with us for our comfort,
let us say, Good night, and climb up-stairs to bed.



One day, during my stay in New York, I paid a visit to
the different public institutions on Long Island, or Rhode
Island : I forget which. One of them is a Lunatic Asylum.
The building is handsome ; and is remarkable for a spacious
and elegant staircase. The whole structure is not yet finished,
but it is already one of considerable size and extent, and is
capable of accommodating a very large number of patients.

I cannot say that I derived much comfort from the inspec-
tion of this charity. The different wards might have been
cleaner and better ordered ; I saw nothing of that salutary
system which had impressed me so favourably elsewhere ; and
everything had a lounging, listless, madhouse air, which was
very painful. The moping idiot, cowering down with long
dishevelled hair ; the gibbering maniac, with his hideous laugh
and pointed finger; the vacant eye, the fierce wild face, the
gloomy picking of the hands and lips, and munching of the
nails : there they were all, without disguise, in naked ugliness
and horror. In the dining-roorn, a bare, dull, dreary place,



110 AMERICAN NOTES.

with nothing for the eye to rest on but the empty walls, a
woman was locked up alone. She was bent, they told me, on
committing suicide. If anything could have strengthened her
in her resolution, it would certainly have been the insupport-
able monotony of such an existence.

The terrible crowd with which these halls and galleries were
filled, so shocked me, that I abridged my stay within the
shortest limits, and declined to see that portion of the building
in which the refractory and violent were under closer restraint.
I have no doubt that the gentleman who presided over this
establishment at the time I write of, was competent to manage
it, and had done all in his power to promote its usefulness :
but will it be believed that the miserable strife of Party
feeling is carried even into this sad refuge of afflicted and
degraded humanity ? Will it be believed that the eyes which
are to watch over and control the wanderings of minds on
which the most dreadful visitation to which our nature is
exposed has fallen, must wear the glasses of some wretched
side in Politics ? Will it be believed that the governor of
such a house as this, is appointed, and deposed, and changed
perpetually, as Parties fluctuate and vary, and as their
despicable weathercocks are blown this way or that? A
hundred times in every week, some new most paltry exhibition
of that narrow-minded and injurious Party Spirit, which is
the Simoom of America, sickening and blighting everything of
wholesome life within its reach, was forced upon my notice ;
but I never turned my back upon it with feelings of such
deep disgust and measureless contempt, as when I crossed the
threshold of this madhouse.

At a short distance from this building is another called the
Alms House, that is to say, the workhouse of New York.
This is a large Institution also : lodging, I believe, when I
was there, nearly a thousand poor. It was badly ventilated,
and badly lighted ; was not too clean ; and impressed me, on
the whole, very uncomfortably. But it must be remembered
that New York, as a great emporium of commerce, and as a



AN OLD PRISON. Ill

place of general resort, not only from all parts of the States,
but from most parts of the world, has always a large pauper
population to provide for ; and labours, therefore, under
peculiar difficulties in this respect. Nor must it be forgotten
that New York is a large town, and that in all large towns a
vast amount of good and evil is intermixed and jumbled up
together.

In the same neighbourhood is the Farm, where young
orphans are nursed and bred. I did not see it, but I believe
it is well conducted ; and I can the more easily credit it, from
knowing how mindful they usually are, in America, of that
beautiful passage in the Litany which remembers all sick
persons and young children.

I was taken to these Institutions by water, in a boat belong-
ing to the Island Jail, and rowed by a crew of prisoners, who
were dressed in a striped uniform of black and buff', in which
they looked like faded tigers. They took me, by the same
conveyance, to the Jail itself.

It is an old prison, and quite a pioneer establishment, on
the plan I have already described. I was glad to hear this,
for it is unquestionably a very indifferent one. The most is
made, however, of the means it possesses, and it is as well
regulated as such a place can be.

The women work in covered sheds, erected for that purpose.
If I remember right, there are no shops for the men, but be
that as it may, the greater part of them labour in certain stone-
quarries near at hand. The day being very wet indeed, this
labour was suspended, and the prisoners were in their cells.
Imagine these cells, some two or three hundred in number,
and in every one a man locked up ; this one at his door for
air, with his hands thrust through the grate; this one in bed
(in the middle of the day, remember) ; and this one flung
down in a heap upon the ground, with his head against the
bars, like a wild beast. Make the rain pour down, outside,
in torrents. Put the everlasting stove in the midst; hot,
and suffocating, and vaporous, as a witch's cauldron. Add



112 AMERICAN NOTES.

a collection of gentle odours, such as would arise from a
thousand mildewed umbrellas, wet through, and a thousand
buck-baskets, full of half-washed linen and there is the
prison, as it was that day.

The prison for the State at Sing Sing, is, on the other
hand, a model jail. That, and Auburn, are, I believe, the
largest and best examples of the silent system.

In another part of the city, is the Refuge for the
Destitute: an Institution whose object is to reclaim youthful
offenders, male and female, black and white, without distinc-
tion ; to teach them useful trades, apprentice them to respect-
-able masters, and make them worthy members of society. Its
design, it will be seen, is similar to that at Boston ; and it is a
no less meritorious and admirable establishment. A suspicion
crossed my mind during my inspection of this noble charity,
whether the superintendent had quite sufficient knowledge
of the world and worldly characters ; and whether he did not
commit a great mistake in treating some young girls, who
were to all intents and purposes, by their years and their
past lives, women, as though they were little children ; which
certainly had a ludicrous effect in my eyes, and, or I am much
mistaken, in theirs also. As the Institution, however, is
always under a vigilant examination of a body of gentlemen
of great intelligence and experience, it cannot fail to be well
conducted ; and whether I am right or wrong in this slight
particular, is unimportant to its deserts and character, which
it would be difficult to estimate too highly.

In addition to these establishments, there are in New York,
excellent hospitals and schools, literary institutions and
libraries ; an admirable fire department (as indeed it should
be, having constant practice), and charities of every sort and
kind. In the suburbs there is a spacious cemetery : unfinished
yet, but every day improving. The saddest tomb I saw there
was " The Strangers' Grave. Dedicated to the different hotels
in this city."

There are three principal theatres. Two of them, the



LEAVING NEW YORK. 113

Park and the Bowery, are large, elegant, and handsome build-
ings, and are, I grieve to write it, generally deserted. The
third, the Olympic, is a tiny show-box for vaudevilles and
burlesques. It is singularly well conducted by Mr. Mitchell,
a comic actor of great quiet humour and originality, who is
well remembered and esteemed by London playgoers. I am
happy to report of this deserving gentleman, that his benches
are usually well filled, and that his theatre rings with merri-
ment every night. I had almost forgotten a small .summer
theatre, called Niblo's, with gardens and open air amusements
attached; but I believe it is not exempt from the general
depression under which Theatrical Property, or what is
humorously called by that name, unfortunately labours.

The country round New York is surpassingly and ex-
quisitely picturesque. The climate, as I have already inti-
mated, is somewhat of the warmest. What it would be,
without the sea breezes which come from its beautiful Bay in
the evening time, I will not throw myself or my readers into
a fever by inquiring.

The tone of the best society in this city, is like that of
Boston; here and there, it may be, with a greater infusion
of the mercantile spirit, but generally polished and refined,
and always most hospitable. The houses and tables are
elegant; the hours later and more rakish; and there is,
perhaps, a greater spirit of contention in reference to appear-
ances, and the display of wealth and costly living. The
ladies are singularly beautiful.

Before I left New York I made arrangements for securing a
passage home in the George Washington packet ship, which
was advertised to sail in June : that being the month in
which I had determined, if prevented by no accident in the
course of my ramblings, to leave America.

I never thought that going back to England, returning to
all who are dear to me, and to pursuits that have insensibly
grown to be a part of my nature, I could have felt so much
sorrow as I endured, when I parted at last, on board this



114 AMERICAN NOTES.

ship, with the friends who had accompanied me from this
city. I never thought the name of any place, so far away
and so lately known, could ever associate itself in my mind
with the crowd of affectionate remembrances that now cluster



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 10 of 43)