Asa Greene.

A glance at New York: embracing the city government, theatres, hotels, churches, mobs, monopolies, learned professions, newspapers, rogues, dandies, fires and firemen, water and other liquids, & c., & c. .. online

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Online LibraryAsa GreeneA glance at New York: embracing the city government, theatres, hotels, churches, mobs, monopolies, learned professions, newspapers, rogues, dandies, fires and firemen, water and other liquids, & c., & c. .. → online text (page 10 of 11)
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taste to be as happy as their circumstances will
admit ; a few persons, actuated by a silly
pride, exclude themselves from an enjoyment
from which they have not the power to ex-
clude others.

That charming promenade, called St. John's
Park, appears to be as exclusive as the most
fastidious could desire. Belonging, we be-
lieve, to certain persons connected with St.
John's Church, its gates are entirely closed
to the public ; and only open to the proprie-
tors, their families, and their particular friends.
The Bowling Green, with its shady trees —
and its beautiful verdure, is still more exclu-
sive than St. Johns' Park ; for it not only
excludes the rabble, but every body else.

As for the newer squares, they appear as
yet no better than mere vacant lots : being
vacant, indeed, of every thing that is attrac-
tive ; and destitute alike of every living vege-
table, whether tree, shrub, grass, or flower.


But these promenades are new ; and doubt-
less, in twenty years from this time, with due
care and attention, will be very agreeable
places of resort.

The chief militar}' parade ground is Wash-
ington Square, in front of that fine Gothic
structure, the University of New York. There
the militia of this great city display their skill
in arms. There the volunteer companies ex-
hibit their fine uniforms, their full equipments,
and their knowledge in the art o^ pacific war.
There also the "slabs," in their dresses of all
sorts, with their arms and accoutrements of
all kinds, are dragged on muster days, to
share the glory of the volunteers.

But military tactics are not confined to
Washington Square. The Park is at all
times • a parade ground, whether for small
squads or large ones ; whether for volunteers
or " slabs." The Battery is more exclusive :
being merely used, as a parade, on some grand
anniversary occasion, or other great public
display. Lafayette was received there, in
1824, with military honor ; so was General


Jackson, in 1833. when the bridge from Cas-
tle Garden broke under the weight of glory
that pressed upon it, both in the person of the
venerable chief, and in that of his now suc-
cessor to the Presidential chair. Indeed the
Battery is the place where all great men from
abroad are received, whether with military,
or any other species of public display.

It is there also that the 4th of July is princi-
pally glorified. There floats the American ban-
ner, with its thirteen stripes and twenty-six stars,
on astaff an hundred feet high. There the great
guns are fired, at sunrise, at noon, and at the de-\
cline of day. And there troops of men and
women, of girls and boys, stand, the whole
day through, in crowds, to behold the troops
of the military and listen to the sharp voice of
the musketry, and the deep tone of the can-

The Battery, as we have said before, is
emphatically the people's ground. And
though no man is allowed, in a civil and
peaceable manner, to stretch himself on the
grass " underneath the sheltering shade of the


umbrageous trees ;" but is immediately dis-
turbed in his meditations by some Battery po-
liceman who bids him instantly get up, lest he
should rumple the grass ; nevertheless the
soldiery, who are of the people and from the
people, are at least once every ^ear allowed
the privilege of riding over, trampling down,
and utterly treading up, all the small herbage
which, at great expense and labor, have been
induced to take root there during the twelve
previous months.



Lo ! all in silence, all in order stand,

And mighty folios first, a lordly band ;

Then quartos their well-ordered ranks maintain ;

And light octavos fill a spacious plain:

See yonder ranged in more frequented rows,

A humbler band of duodecimos ;

While undistinguished trifles swell the scene.

The last new play and frittered magazine. — Crabbe.

The citizens of New York have evidently
not forgotten that " knowledge is power," as
any man may convince himself, who will
take the trouble to glance at the various li-
braries in this city. We do not speak of pri-
vate collections of books, nor of those owned
by particular individuals and loaned out for
the public use, denominated circulating libra-
ries. We shall only take notice of some of
the principal collections belonging to public



The first of these in point of age, as well
as in number of volumes, is the New York
Society Library. It was founded while we
were yet in the colonial state, and 21 years
before the commencement of the revolution,
namely, in 1754. It began with about 700 vol-
umes. The price of a share was $12,50, sub-
ject to an annual tax of $1,50. In 1792,
during the administration of Governor Tryon,
the society was incorporated. It was just
beginning to flourish — to increase in numbers
and to add to its stock of books — when the
war broke out ; and while the British had
possession of New York, the principal part of
the books were scattered or destroyed. The
project, however, was revived soon after the
peace ; and the library is now among the
most valuable in the character, as well as
number of its books, to be found in the United
States. It contains more than 25,000 vol-
umes. The price of a share is now $25, and
the annual tax ,^4.

The next, in number of volumes, is the
clerk's library, a collection belonging to the


merchants' clerks, united together under the
name of the Mercantile Library Association.
This library was founded in the year 1821,
by the union of a few clerks who thought
they could devote their leisure hours more
profitably, if not more agreeably, to books
than to the theatres, ball rooms, and other
fashionable amusements. They began by
uniting their own little collections with such
books as they could get together by way of
donation. Thus a few hundred volumes
were collected, which have since been increas-
ing in number, chiefly by means of the sub-
scriptions of members and by an annual tax,
until they now amount to more than 13,500 :
enabling the Mercantile Library to rank as
the tenth, in point of numbers in the United

The increase in 1836, was 1845 volumes ;
and the number of members added during the
same year was 867. The whole number of
members is now about 3,500. The initiation
fee is $1 ; and the annual tax $2, payable by
quarterly instalments of 50 cents each. To


the library is added a reading room, furnished
with all the most valuable periodical literature
of the day.

Merchants are allowed all the privileges of
the library and the reading room, by paying
an annual subscription of $5. And so far
they are considered members but they are not
allowed the privilege of voting.

The sole management of the concern be-
longs to the clerks ; who, not far from the
first of January, elect their officers for each
year, and hear the report of those entrusted
with the rule for the year preceding.

About the time of the election, there is
usually a good deal of stir among the clerks,
and no little show of party spirit. The con-
tending factions publish their respective nomi-
nations in the newspapers, and electioneer
with a warmth, a spirit and vigor, which
might excite the envy of much older poli-

The principal point of dispute between them
is, generally, in relation to the character of
the books which shall be purchased : one party


accusing the other of a design to exclude all
the attractions of romance ; and the other
party retorting the accusation.

But these charges, we are told, are got up
on each side chiefly for electioneering purpo-
ses ; and that there is in reality little differ-
ence of opinion between the parties as. to the
character of the books which shall be added
to the library. A large majority, on both
sides, we are informed are in favor of a "con-
siderable sprinkling" of works of fiction : and
though the most valuable scientific and literary
works constitute the solid dishes and the prin-
cipal repast of the readers, nevertheless very
few of them would be satisfied without a des-
sert composed of lighter materials.

But whatever the motive, real or apparent,
which annually excites so much warmth and
gives such vigor to the electioneering spirit,
no sooner are the officers chosen for the year,'
than all party animosity is buried in the more
important concern of advancing the interests
of the association and increasing the library,
both in the value of its works and the number


of its volumes. Having exercised the invalua-
ble right of suffrage ; and having either beaten
their opponents, or acknowledged themselves
beaten ; the members of the different parties,
leaving the management of affairs to "the
powers that be," go home and quietly read
their books, and trouble their heads no more
with the excitements of party matters, until
the next annual election.

Connected with the association of clerks is
the Clinton Hall Association— a corporate
body, composed of some of the first mer-
chants in the city, united for the laudable pur-
pose of aiding the clerks in their efforts for
intellectual improvement. Clinton Hall, in
which are the library, reading, and lecture^
rooms, is the property of this association ; and,
besides the use of these rooms being granted
rent free, the income of the stores and such
other parts of the building as are let out on
rent, all goes to the Mercantile Library, to in-
crease its stock of books. This source — as
soon as some arrears of expense for building
are paid — will, we are assured, amount to lit-


tie less than $5000 ; which, with the income
from subscription and assessments of members,
will give to the Mercantile Library Associa-
tion an income of more than $10,000 a year;
all of which, laid out in books, will cause
their collection to increase more rapidly than
perhaps any other library in the United

Next to the Mercantile Library in number
of volumes, and not inferior to it in point of
usefulness, is the Apprentices Library. It
was founded in the year 1820, and has now
upwards of 12,000 volumes. This library is
the property of the General Society of Me-
chanics and Tradesmen, a benevolent associ-
ation formed in 1784, thirty-six years before
the establishment of the library. The initia-
tion fee, for members of this society, is $10 ;
and $12 more, paid in four annual instalments
of $3 each — or $20, paid in the beginning —
constitutes a man a life member.

The books of this library are loaned to me-
chanics' apprentices — for whose use alone it
is intended — free of all expense ; their mas-


ters engaging to become responsible for the
safe return of the books. Nothing could be
more noble and generous than this provision
of the mechanics and tradesmens' society. Of
all persons in the world, apprentices are apt
to be the most destitute of books, when left to
their own resources. How great then the
importance — how benevolent the object — of
an institution, which provides a remedy for
so great a want.

Apprentices are inclined to read — at least a
large proportion of them are so — if the means
are furnished them : as any one may be con-
vinced, who will step into their library of an
evening (the only time it is open) ; where he
will behold the pleasing sight of hundreds of
boys, from 12 years old and upwards, in hum-
ble apparel, but all eager to obtain books, and
warm in their desires for intellectual improve-

There are several other public libraries in
this city, the largest of which is that belong-
ing to the New York Historical Society,
founded in 1809, and containing upwards of


10,000 volumes. That of the American In-
stitute, established in 1828, contains about
3,000 volumes; and that of the Law Institute,
founded in the same year, upwards of 2,000.

The Mechanics' Institute, founded in 1831,
has a library of about 1,200 volumes. One
work, belonging to this collection, cost $800.
It is Denon's great work on Egypt, consisting
of 24 large folio volumes, illustrated with a
great number of very expensive engravings.
The other works belonging to this library are
mostly valuable scientific and literary works,
particularly calculated for the association to
which they belong. This institute has an an-
nual course of lectures, on various subjects
connected with improvement in science and
the mechanic arts.

These are the principal public libraries in
New York ; and are all of exceeding value
and importance, both in the materials of
which they are composed and the objects
to which they are devoted. But in this latter
respect — as will be gathered from what we

have said above — there are none of them that


we think of such high importance as those of

the apprentices and the clerks : inasmuch as

these afford reading and improvement to those

who could not well obtain them by other

means; besides furnishing an inducement to

the avoidance of evil company, and to the

cultivation of habits of correct thought and'
useful study.



This world is all a fleeting show,
For man's illusion given. — Moore.

The citizens of New York possess, in com-
mon with those of other cities and with the
world in general, a pretty large portion of
that species of intellectual weakness called
hoaxability. People of all sorts and in all
countries, from ancient down to modern times,
seem to have invited deception — to have
given it a hearty welcome — to have been fond
of it, as of their daily food.

Some hoaxes — if we may so call that par-
ticular species of deception — have been played
off, from good motives and for useful purposes.
Such was that of Numa Pompilius, the wise
and good king of Rome, in relation to his pre-
tended intercourse with the goddess Egeria ;


whereby he greatly softened the rude natures,
improved the morals, and polished the man-
ners of his semi-barbarous subjects. Other
lawgivers, in the first institutions of society,
have also practiced deceptions, as well fdr the
benefit, as for the more convenient manage-
ment, of the people : pretending to derive
their information and their authority directly
from heaven.

For a like purpose of governing the popu-
lace, but not always with equally commend-
able motives, the priests have played off their
hoaxes,not only among the pagans of antiquity,
but likewise among the christians of more
modern times. Hence the pretended miracles
and prodigies with which the world has been
filled, and the multitude deceived and led astray.

Hoaxes, as we have them in very modern
times, are the result of diiTerent motives. Some
of them are practiced for the purpose of good-
natured sport, or innocent deception ; but far
the larger number are got up for the purpose
of making money — of picking the pockets of
the credulous. Such, for the most part, are


all the notable inventions of quack medicines
the "drops," the "pills," the ''balms," the
"balsams," and the thousand "infallible
specifics," with which the world is filled ; and
such are the puffs, and advertisements, and
certificates of cures, with which they are re-
(Commended to the public.

A great city affords a very rich field for the
lioaxer's harvest. There are abundant mate-
rials to be wrought upon. Folly, credulity,
and ignorance are rife. The hoaxability is
catching. And, provided it be skilfully and
prudently managed, will continue to prevail
very much in proportion to the number and
density of the population.

The chief hoaxes that have for some years
been played, in New York— and the only ones
deserving of particular notice— are the great
Joice Heth hoax and the great Moon hoax.
These were both " brought out," as they say
of a new piece at the theatre and a new miss
in good society — in the summer of 1835.

The inventor of the Joice Heth affair was,
originally, a Connecticut Yankee. He first


taught a school ; but finding that not suffici-
ently agreeable, or not sufficiently lucrative,
he next turned his attention to law, which he
practiced for a while in the interior of this
state. Not finding the law, any more than
teaching, quite suited to his peculiar genius
and taste, he resolved to bring himself before
the people in a more imposing light. He saw
that the multitude were ignorant and gullible,
fondof rare sights, and marvellous exhibitions
Hereon he laid his plan.

Finding, very fortunately, in one of the
slave-holding states, a miserable piece of frail
mortality, in the shape of an old female negro,
who had been blind and bedridden for many
years ; he purchased, or by some means took
her off the hands of her owner, or of the pub-
lic, to whom she had long been a burden.

But miserable and worthless as she was, for
all the valuable purposes of life, old Joice
was the very thing her new proprietor wanted.
A hale young negro would not have suited
his design. It was not only requisite that she
should be withered and old ; but that her age


should appear to have surpassed that of any
person since the days of the patriarchs. To
favor this part of the hoax, her bodily appear-
ance and infirmities were excellently fitted.
Her nails were especially calculated to pro-
mote the deception ; having, through her
long- blindness and infirmity, not been pared
for many years, until they had grown out to
the length and shape of eagles' claws.

A hundred and sixty years, and upwards,
were fixed upon to constitute her age. But
a piece of African mortality, even of that ex-
cessive age, would excite comparatively little
interest, unless some other extraordinary cir-
cumstance should be connected with her his-
tory. And here the ingenuity of the inventor
was exhibited in a remarkable degree, in con-
necting the name of Washington with that of
old Joice Heth. To make her the nurse of
George Washington, was the ne plus ultra of
skilful invention. What ! to have carried in
her arms and nourished at her breast the fa-
ther of his country, the idol and the glory of
the American people ! She was, indeed,


somewhat old for a nurse — being nearly sixty
when Washington was born. But that was
not to be helped, for two very good reasons :
in the first place, nothing less than one hun^-
dred and sixty years would do for her age ;
and in the second, no other man's nurse would
carry with her such a halo of glory as the
nurse of Washington. Besides a discrepancy
— an anachronism — of twenty or thirty years
is nothing, in cooking up a great hoax — -
where the very magnitude of the whole de^
ception prevents people from scanning very
minutely its several parts.

Being so well provided for, in personal ap^
pearance, in age, and in honorable connec-
tions ; the next and the only remaining re-
quisite, to make a proper heroine out of the
miserable old Joice, was to furnish her with a
due stock of piety. It would not do for the
nurse of George Washington to be less than
pious — and very eminently and devoutly so.
She was therefore made a member of the
church ; not indeed of the Episcopal and fa-
vorite church of Washington — but of the

HOAXES. ' 237

Baptist — which having more members than
any other in the United States, it was thought
would turn out the most projfitable.

The only remaining requisite now was. to
prepare vouchers as to the genuine age of old
Joice : and to instruct her properly in all the
lessons ofdeception, piety and church-member-
ship included. This was a somewhat difficult
task : for Joice was old, stupid, obstinate, and
hard to learn. She had, besides, a dreadful
habit of swearing, which militated very much
against her piety. It was with great difficulty
she could be cured of this profane habit;
which was inclined every now and then, to
break out long after her character for piety
was established, and required the utmost at-
tention of her keepers properly to restrain and
hold in due subjection.

After much instruction and many rehear-
sals, old Joice was at length prepared for ex-
hibition. The pulse of the public, we believe,
was first felt at Cincinnati. Finding it beat
well for the project in that distant extremity,
the inventor drew nearer to the heart. He


tried Philadelphia. There he began to be as-
tonished at his own success. The manufac-
tured certificates were published, and every
body believed in their genuineness ; for who
could doubt a long list of certificates, signed
— actually signed — with men's names ? The
newspapers were hoaxed, and in their turn
helped to hoax the public.

The fame of old Joice Heth — the pious
Joice — the almost antedeluvian Joice — the
nurse of Washington himself — quickly reached
New York. People were all agog to behold
so wonderful a sight. They were all eager to
partake of so very delicate a dish — cooked up
with such amazing skill to suit the popular
palate. In due time they were gratified. New
York was too large and too rich a field not to
be made the principal scene of the grand de-

Arrived here, the miserable piece of bed-
ridden mortality was visited by all classes.
The papers were filled with her excessive age,
her devout piety, her interesting connection
with the family of Washington. Old Joice


Heth was in every body's mouth. They
talked for a while of nothing else. The
Italian opera^the theatre in general — even
the weather itself — was forgotten. The first
question was, "Have you seen Joice Heth?"
If the reply were no, then came the rejoinder,
*' What ! not seen Joice Heth 1 I wonder at
you. Every body goes to see old Joice."—
" Do you believe she is so very old as they rep-
resent V — " Oh, yes, I hav'nt the least doubt
in the world of it. And then she's so very
pious, you can't think !"

After plucking the pigeons well in this city,
the proprietor of old Joice carried his exhibi-
tion eastward. Boston and some of the minor
cities of New England were gratified with the
sight ; and to do justice to their taste, intelli-
gence and gullibility, they swallowed the hoax
with as much apparent relish as the good city
of New York.

But it is not our business to follow old Joice
and her spiritual father, manufacturer, and
exhibitor through all their movements. Suf-
fice it to say, they returned to New York, as


the great central station, strong hold, and most
profitable scene of gullibility. Here they
flourished again, with nearly as much vigor as

But, alas ! for the instability of all human
things ! A negro, one hundred and sixty
years old, could not live always. Death, who
had so long held his hand, was now standing
near and aiming his dart at poor old Joice.
Quite needless, one would think, to bring any
weapons with him to take away the small re-
mains of her miserable life.

However, there death was ; and the pro-
prietor began to be mightily alarmed for the
stability of his gains. Had she only lived a
couple of summers more, he would have been
willing to part with her. He implored her to
live for his sake. He thought it was very un-
fair on her part — nay, it was " pesky" un-
grateful — after all the pains he had taken in
teaching her, polishing her, making her pious,
and adding seventy years to her age — that she
should desert him after this fashion. He
moreover did his best, by careful nursing and


keeping her warm, to make her winter over ;
in hopes that if she could only see the warm
spring again, she would flourish for one more
summer at least.

But it was not in the power of human
means to preserve the wretched invalid. The
last spark of life went out : and old Joice
Heth, who had made so much noise for one
little year, was nothing but a corpse.

Here, it might have been expected, the ex-
hibition would end. But, with an economy
deserving the highest admiration, the proprie-
tor resolved, that, though dead, silent, and
cold, Joice should yet figure to some purpose.
The doctors were called in, and a public dis-
section took place, to which the people—the
still unsatisfied people—were admitted in
crowds, by paying a fee. And here ended
the profits and the hoax together.

An account was published, in the papers of
the appearances, of the body of old Joice on

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Online LibraryAsa GreeneA glance at New York: embracing the city government, theatres, hotels, churches, mobs, monopolies, learned professions, newspapers, rogues, dandies, fires and firemen, water and other liquids, & c., & c. .. → online text (page 10 of 11)