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 7 of 11)
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read them through.

We speak now more especially of what is

called the cheap binding ; which is mostly of

cloth, and has within a few years taken the

place of the former binding in boards : a spe-



cies of binding still much used by the princi-
pal publishers in Philadelphia ; and, so far at
least, quite inferior to that of our own pub-

It must be confessed, indeed, that the cheap
binding of the present day, however slight, is
a decided improvement over the binding in
boards, which w^as in common use, for novels
and other light works, ten years ago. Another
very decided improvement, both in appearance
and value, is the lettering on the cloth with
gold leaf, instead of labelling the books with

But the worst feature in modern publishing
— and in this respect the Philadelphia publish-
ers beat ours — is the vile paper on which most
of the books are printed. Made of bad mate-
rials, badly wove, and so thin as to be very
nearly transparent, it is not surprising that the
pages of a book, made of such paper, should
cut a very scandalous figure ; and, when print-
ed on small type, with bad ink, and a machine
press, should be nearly illegible.


Great fault is found with some of our publish-
ers, in respect to bad paper. But then they
compare their books with those of Philadel-
phia ; and pointing one finger to the brown
paper of the latter, and another to the fairer
complexion of their own flimsy materials, tri-
umphantly exclaim, " Behold the difference !'*
True, a difference there is ; but it is only a
difference in badness.

The public, however, may thank them-
selves for all the bad paper, bad printing, and
bad book work of all kinds, of which the pre-
sent age is guilty. If they will purchase
cheap books, they must take the consequence
They cannot reasonably expect, for half price,
to obtain a whole-priced article.

It has happened very strangely in regard
to books — and indeed to all kinds of publica-
tions — that they have been constantly getting
lower in price, while all other commodities
have been getting higher. The newspaper
has increased to twice its size, without adding
to its price ; and books, which were formerly


sold for two dollars, are now sold for only
one — and not iinfrequently for half a one !

The book trade, at the best, is one of little
profit and great hazard. The extensive pub-
lisher, who is careful to print only such books
as will sell, and to sell them only to such per-
sons as will pay for them, may make money.
Those publishers, on the other hand, who
venture upon every thing that is new, print
doubtful works, and sell them to doubtful cus-
tomers, can scarcely fail, in a very short time,
of making a complete failure. But it is the
retailers, who in general suffer most, or whose
case is most to be commiserated : because,
let them manage with what prudence they
may, they must suifer great loss ; especially if
Ithey are forward to procure all the new pub-
lications, and to have the freshest literary
goods in the market. Alas ! for their obliging
disposition, and their zeal to accomodate their
friends and the public ! The literary novel-
ties, which were quite fresh when they got
ihem, will, a very large part of them, be stale
lenough before they find purchasers. They


remain on the shelves, year after year, a per-
petually accumulating mass : and no living
creature takes a fancy to them ; except it be
the flies, for a convenient resting place ; or the
moths and the mice, for the nutriment they
may extract from their binding, and the nests
they may form of their leaves.

Reader, look in, some day, upon the stock
of a large retail dealer, who has been in busi-
ness ten or fifteen years. Cast your eye to
the highest shelves, and then again to the low-
est. Look also into all the odd corners and
by-places. And you will see verified what I
have mentioned. You will see thousands of
unsaleable volumes, for which the bibliopole
has paid a high price, and which he cannot
sell again at any price ; except it be beneath
the hammer of the auctioneer, and then only
at a fifth part of their first cost — deducting
therefrom the auctioneer's commission of ten
per cent. And yet, with their small profits
and great losses, we know not that failures
have been much more frequent among book-
sellers than among the dealers in other com-


modities. In half a dozen years, there have

not been, in New York, so far as we recollect,

more than half a dozen failures in the book

trade. This may seem strange. But if we

might account for it by what seems a para^

dox, we should say in regard to most of the

dealers in books, that they cannot do business
enough to fail.

The number of booksellers, of all kinds, in
this city, is about sixty. Of these about fifty
do business within doors, and the remainder
without. These last, though their trade is
small and their gains small, are the most indcr
pendent of bibliopoles. They are in no dan-
ger of being turned out of doors by the ava -
rice or the caprice of their landlords ; and if
driven by any untoward circumstances from
the corner of one street, they have only to re-
move their book store, alias their stand, to the
corner of another, and proceed with their bu-
siness as before. Several booksellers, now
doing a large indoor business, in this city, first

began by doing a small one in the open


The number of publishers in New York,
not engaged in the general book-trade, is not
above five or six. The principal of these are
Harper & Brothers, George Dearborn, Con-
ner &: Cooke, Saunders & Otley, and Charles
Wells. Others — as Collins. Keese & Co.,
Leavitt & Lord, the Brothers Carvill, Daniel
Appleton, John S. Taylor, &c. &;c. who are

general booksellers, also publish more or


But it is believed that the amount of books,
published by Harper & Brothers, equal, if it
do not exceed, that of all other publishers in
this city. We are informed, that the num-
ber of volumes of all sorts, issued by them in
a single year, is not less then one million. Last
year, they published about 200,000 volumes
of original American works.

This, of itself — allowing there were no other
publishers of our home manufacture — would
be pretty good evidence that there is, at the
present day, no very plentiful lack of Amerj^
can authorship. And if it should still be ask-
ed by some British critic — as it was a few


years ago — " who reads an American book?"
it can scarcelj' be a question at least, who pub-
lishes one.

But American authorship has risen very
materially in the English market, of late years.
And so, indeed, has American actorship, if we
may judge by the success of Forrest, Miss Chf-
ton, Yankee Hill, and Jim Crow. Time was,
when all our actors, as well as all our books,
were imported. But now our exports — at
least in actors — nearly equal our imports ;
and should the reflux of the dramatic trade
continue as it has begun, the balance will in a
short time be in favor of America.

But, to return to the great publishing house
of Harper & Brothers. Though these gentle-
men publish so much, they are exceedingly
cautious as to the character of their publica-
tions. As certain kings and great men, of
whom we read, used, in former times, to keep
a taster, whose business it was to see that
the food was not poisoned : so do Harper &
Brothers employ a reader, to vrhose critical
judgment and moral taste are subjected all


new works, whether American or imported ;
and without whose sanction none of these
works are ever permitted to see the hght.
This course is judicious, on more accounts
than one. It not only insures the purity of
the moral, and the briskness of the intellect-
ual, atmosphere, as far as the press of Harper
& Brothers is concerned ; but also provides ef-
fectually against the assertion that their books
" are never read."

The publications of the Harpers are o f all

" From grave to gay, from lively to severe."

Those of Leavitt and Lord are mostly religious.
Those of Dearborn are chiefly works of stand-
ard literature. So are those of Wells, and of
Conner and Cooke. Collins, Keese, & Com-
pany publish mostly elementary and school
books. But the principal part of the business
of this latter firm is in the wholesale book
trade ; in which they doubtless do a larger busi-
ness than any other house in the United States,
They deal mostly in American books : pur^


chasing from publishers in every part of the
Union, and selling again to booksellers in
every part.

But the most profitable book trade in the
city is, perhaps, that of James E. Cooley, un-
der the hammer. His trade sales are semi-
annual — in March and in September. They
usually continue each about a vi^eek, during
which time his auction room is crowded with
booksellers from all parts of the Union ; and
the amount of books, stationery, and printing
materials, which exchange hands, is immense.


Like an ill-roasted egg, all on one side. — ^As you like it.

The form of our city government does not
very materially differ from that established by
the Dutch, in the days of Governor Van Twil-
ler. Then the Council consisted of two
boards, namely, the Burgermeesters and the
Schepens. Our Common Council, in like
manner, consists of two boards, to wit, the
Aldermen and Assistant Aldermen. The
Dutch corporation, as we are informed by
the "only authentic history of New York," was
composed of fat men. The corporation of
the present day will likewise be found to be in
good bodily condition. The business of the
schepens was to assist the burgermeesters.
The business of our assistant aldermen is to
assist the aldermen.


So far they seem very perfectly to agree :
their outward form and apparent use being the
same. The principal difference is in the spirit
and mode of operations. The Dutch sche-
pens, saith the " only authentic history," were
appointed to help the burgermeesters eat,
drink, and smoke. It was also a part of their
duty to fill the pipes and laugh at the wit of
the superior board. In this latter respect, our
assistant aldermen have a far easier task : for
our worthy aldermen, so far as we ever heard,
never perpetrate wit ; and there is no filling
of pipes, for the fathers of the city now smoke

But the duties of both boards, in these lat-
ter days, differ very materially from those of
the golden age of Wouter Van Twiller.
They are now obliged to legislate, as well as
to eat and drink. They have now appoint-
ments to make, other than those of dining,
supping, and smoking. They are now bodies
of some power, and not the mere appendages
of the chief magistrate. They have now
three hundred thousand people,of " every na-


tion, kindred, and tongue," to take care of,
instead of a few quiet, easy Dutchmen.

The city of New York consists, at present,
of seventeen Wards ; a new ward having,
with great wisdom, been recently created.
We say with great wisdom, because the num-
ber of wards should always be odd : especially
where the division of parties is nearly even.
An odd number — as every good woman
knows, in the hatching of ducks and gos-
lings—is apt to be most fortunate. No less
so is it in the hatching of municipal affairs :
as the two boards of 1836 found, to their
cost ; but much more to the cost of their con-
stituents. The parties being equally divided in
each board, came very near never coming to a
choice of their presiding officers. For many
weeks they balloted, night after night ; and came
no nearer a choice than when they first began.
The result was perpetually, "eight and eight."
Neither the Whigs would yield, nor the Tam-
manies. The people were loud in their cen-
sures ; the papers were vocal in their dis-


praise. The affairs of the city were " at sixes
and sevens." The Government was nearly
at a stand ; and the people began to despair.
Luckily, the Fourth of July was drawing
on : and it was indispensably necessary that
the two boards should organize, a httle pre-
vious to that day, in order to vote themselves
a public dinner, and make due provision for
all the arrangements of cookery, of wine,
punch, and segars. They grew suddenly pa-
triotic. " It is a pity," said they, " that the
interests of the people should suffer, by reason
of our party feuds. We must organize and
proceed to business. It will not do to neg-
lect our constituents, whatever our political
opinions may be. We must give way a little,
in party matters — especially in the present
emergency." So the aldermen elected a Tam-
many man president; and the assistants ele-
vated a Whig.

So happy an end was put to this famous
division of " eight and eight." But it was re-
solved not to be so caught again, for want of
an odd number in each board. The legisla-


ture was applied to, and graciously granted
the prayer of the city for a new ward.

We have assigned to the corporation of
New York some power, and also the duties of
legislation. Power they certainly have, over
butchers' stalls, dram-shops, street inspec-
tors, town pumps, and many other things
within the city, as well as the waters of
the two rivers : reaching even to the city of
Jersey on the one side, and the city of Brook-
lyn on the other. Concerning these matters
they can legislate. But for many weighty
and important concerns, they might as well be
without any power. They hold a very lim-
ted charter — as is seen in the case of the new
ward ; for the erection of which they were
obliged to ask leave of their superiors at Al-
bany. As though it were a matter of any
consequence to the state of New York,
whether the number of wards were more or
less in the city of New York ! A charter is
not worth having, unless it gives power to
transact all necessary business for the interests
of the city ; not contravening any law of the
state or the United States. Yet such is the


condition of this great city : her hands are so
tied up ; she is so helpless — so unable to do
any important thing of herself — that she is
obliged to be running every year to Albany,
to ask leave of the state legislature to draw
her breath freely and at ease. She had bet-
ter in the next amendment of her charter have
" grace said over the whole barrel" at once,
;and done with it.

But if our worthy corporation are some-
what stinted in the number and variety of
their powers, they cannot be called niggardly
in the exercise of such as they possess : as
those in office, when power changes hands,
are able to testify. Being, as our motto hath
it, " like an ill roasted egg, all on one side,"
this power operates less for the good of the
city, than for the gratification of party pre-
judice, party views, and party " monopoly of
the spoils." The incumbents then feel the
power of the corporation. The operation of
joint ballot comes ; the old placemen are dis-
placed, from the greatest to the least, and
new ones placed in their room. " Is he


honest, is he capable, is he faithful ]" These
trifling questions are^never asked. It is more
to the point to know on which side he voted,
how many votes he brought with him to the
poll, and how many speeches he made prior
to, and at the election. Political virtue never
looks to the good of the people, but to the ad-
vantages of the party. Ingratitude to faithful
friends and staunch partisans, is not, at least
in our day, among the number of political
sins. " To the victors belong the spoils," and
the successful leaders, dare not be niggardly,
or stray from party bounds, in their distribu-

Though the character of a New York cor-
poration is, in general, that of perfect one-
sidedness ; the two boards of '36, as we have
already seen in the affair of " eight and eight,"
were as two-sided as could well be desired.
The only thing they ever cordially agreed on
was the great anniversary dinner above named.
The old placemen remained in place, because
the parties were too much divided to agree
on the substitution of new ones.


It must be said, to the credit of all the boards
with which New York has for many years
been blessed, that, however they may neglect
the minor concerns of the city, they never fail
to pay proper attention to the interesting sub-
ject of the great annual dinner on the Fourth
of July. They invariably appropriate money,
to feed themselves on that occasion ; and their
patriotism is shown, not less by the amount
than the regularity of the appropriation. For
the sum, they seem to have a standing rule.
It is just ^2000 : certainly a very Hberal allow-
ance for dining so small a body of men,
though they be aldermen, assistants, and
mayor to ^boot.

Let us make a slight calculation of the ex-
pense per head — or rather the expens.e per
belly. The seventeen wards choose seventeen
aldermen and seventeen assistants — making
thirty-four in all. Add the mayor, and — al-
lowing he only counts one, the same as an
alderman — you have a total of thirty-five. Di-
vide $2000 by thirty-five, and you have a
quotient of $57 and some odd cents ; which



is just the expense per man, of the great
patriotic dinner. But suppose we add to these
chiefs, some of the underlings of the corpora-
tion — such as the clerks of the two boards,
and the doorkeepers ; and even throw in the
commissioner of the alms-house : the whole
only amount to forty ; which being made the
divisor of the $2000, gives a quotient of just
$50 to each man.

What these gentlemen eat, or what they
drink — never having had the honor to dine
with them, we positively cannot inform our
readers. But we think they will agree with
us, that it must be a very capital dinner in-
deed, that costs ffty dollars.

If any reader should marvel how the cor-
poration dare thus sport with the people's
money — thus lavish it on themselves, even to
the amount of a fifty-dollar dinner : we beg
he will consider, for one moment, who our
corporation are ; and, moreover, what remu-
neration they get for all their toils and exer-
tions in the cause of the people. Like the
members of the British Parliament, they re-


ceive no pay. The only emolument they get,
is the honor and glory of being aldermen and
assistants. If they could not, with all this
patriotic sacrifice, vote themselves a grand
dinner once a year, and now and then an ex-
tra lunch at the alms-house — as they are ac-
customed to do — their office, save in the re-
ceipt of honor and glory, would be an empty
affair indeed. The mayor's duties are not so
entirely gratuitous. His salary is ^3000.

Formerly that officer was chosen by the
two boards. But the people, believing them-
selves to be as competent to the choice of a
mayor as of common council, sent, one winter
— some three or four years ago — post haste
to Albany, and got their charter amended ;
since which they have been freemen in full.

Formerly, also, the common council con-
sisted of only a single board, namely, the al-
dermen. The entire weight of our city affairs
rested on their shoulders — even to the eating,
without assistants, of the great annual dinner.
We never heard, however, that they com-
plained of this. On the contrary, they bore


the burden patiently, and discharged their duty
with all becoming diligence. We never heard,
even, that they asked for any assistants, or
demanded the aid of a second board. The
first idea of providing them help, we believe,
originated with the people. The aldermen, in
fact, were so satisfied with their laborious du-
ties, and so confident of their ability to dis-
charge them without any aid, that they were
quite scandalized at the idea of an additional
board. They insisted upon continuing, as
they had done, to bear all the burden, and take
all the responsibility. But the people would not
allow it. They had too much of the proper
kind of feeling, to be willing to "work a free
horse to death." You shall have assistants,
said they ; and to Albany they went, as usual,
and obtained leave to erect a new board.

The mayor, aldermen, and assistants of New
York, are chosen annually, on the 2d Tuesday
of April ; or to speak more properly, they be-
gin to be chosen on that day ; for they do
not fairly succeed in getting in, until two
days afterwards. So great an affair is an elec^


tion in the " empire state." Think of it, ye
Bostonians who begin and end your elections
on the same day. Think of it, ye Philadel-
phians, who get through with yours with the
like expedition. What petty affairs must they
be, and how slightly executed, when so short
a time suffices for their completion. Come
hither some leisure day, if you would see an
election done up in magnificent style.

Such crowding ! — such jostling ! — such
pushing ! — such swearing ! — you would sup-
pose the whole thing were to be done in a
single day, and that the freemen were pushing
so to get in their votes, because they were
pushed for time. No such thing. We have
just said they have three days allowed them.
But the truth is, the more they swear the less
they do. It is not, as in Boston, " Walk up,
Gentlemen! walk up, and deposite your
votes!" But it is, ''Keep them back, constable !
keep them back ! Dont let them scrouge up
to the poll so 1"

To get in 60 votes an hour, is a very thriv-
ing business in New York. Some wards, in-


deed, have exceeded it, where the presiding
officers have been dexterous, and where there
was very little challenging and less swearing.
These are apt to take up a great deal of time •
especially in those very contested elections,
where votes, that are even known to be legal,
are disputed. Such was the case a year or two
since, when the votes of Philip Hone and other
distinguished citizens, who were born and had
lived to a good old age in the city, were chal-
lenged. The privilege of challenge was de-
signed to secure the purity of elections; but in
cases like the above named, it is rendered
purely vexatious.

A further security against illegal votes is
proposed by the requirement of an oath in
disputed cases. How small is the value of
this security, may be easily imagined, when
we take into consideration, that the rogue who
offers a false vote, is not very likely to be re-
strained by conscientious scruples from swear-
ing it in. " I woted this wery day in seven
wards," said a fellow, at a late election, " and
I 'sign to wote in all the 'tothers, to-morrow


and next day, if they'll o'ny pay me gine-*

" Pay you !"

" Yes : you don't think I'd trampoose about
from poll to poll, for nothin, do you 1"

" How much do you get for each vote ?'

" Two shill'ns, and somethin to drink."

" Cheap enough too."

" I'll be hanged if 'taint. And yet it's better'ii
nothin. 'Tis'nt every man what's made fourteen
shill'ns to day. Have you done't, mister ?"

*^ Indeed I have not. But how do you
work it to get in so many votes *?"

^' Oh, I swears 'em in."

Some honest citizens of New York have
tried hard to obtain a law for the registry of
voters : to obviate the necessity of challeng-
ing, to do away with the profane practice of
swearing, and at the same time secure the
purity of elections. But such a law would
prove ruinous to the trade in politics ; and
therefore cannot reasonably be expected to



But let me scrape the dirt away.

John Gilpii?,

The condition of the streets, in a great city^
is of very great importance, because on that
condition depends the comfort and conve-
nience of a great many persons. We will
suppose, that of the 300,000 inhabitants of
New York, only one tenth, on an average, are
in the streets at a time : then there are, at
once, 30,000 persons suffering annoyance if
the condition of the streets be bad ; or enjoy-
ing their walks, their rides, and their business
operations, if that condition be good.

"New York, I perceive" — said a gentleman

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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 7 of 11)