Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 online

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is in the tenement-houses that we must seek for the mass of the poor,
and it is in the tenement-houses that we find the causes which,
combined, are making of the generation now coming up a terror in the
present and a promise of future evil beyond man's power to reckon. They
are a class apart, retaining all the most brutal characteristics of the
Irish peasant at home, but without the redeeming light-heartedness, the
tender impulses and strong affections of that most perplexing people.
Sullen, malicious, conscienceless, with no capacity for enjoyment save
in drink and the lowest forms of debauchery, they are filling our
prisons and reformatories, marching in an ever-increasing army through
the quiet country, and making a reign of terror wherever their
footsteps are heard. With a little added intelligence they become
Socialists, doing their heartiest to ruin the institutions by which
they live. The Socialistic leader knows well with what he deals, and
can sound every chord of jealousy and suspicion and revenge lying open
to his touch. On the rich lies the whole responsibility of want and
disease and crime. Equalize property, and these three dark shadows flee
fast before the sunshine of prosperity. Character, intelligence, common
decencies and common virtues have nothing to do with present
conditions, and the ardent leveller of class-distinctions counts as his
enemy any one who seeks to give the poor a truer knowledge of how far
their earnings may be made to go toward securing better food or less
pestilent homes.

Yet foul air and overcrowding would be less fatal in their results were
food understood. The well-filled stomach gives strange powers of
resistance to the body, and nothing shows this more strongly than the
myriad cases of children and infants who are taken from the
tenement-houses to the sanitariums at Bath or Rockaway. A week or two
of pure air and plenty of milk gives a look almost of health to
children who have been brought there often with glazed eyes and
pinched, ghastly little faces. Air has meant half, but many mothers
have been persuaded to give milk or oatmeal porridge instead of weak
tea and bread poisoned with alum, and have found the child's strength
become a permanent and not temporary fact.

That these children are alive at all, that fatherhood and motherhood
are allowed to be the right of drunkards and criminals of every grade,
is a problem whose present solution passes any human power, but which
all lovers of their kind must sooner or later face. In the mean time
the children are with us, born to inheritances that tax every power
good men and women can bring to bear. Hopeless as the outlook often
seems, salvation for the future of the masses lies in these children.
Not in a teaching which gives them merely the power to grasp at the
mass of sensational reading, which fixes every wretched tendency and
blights every seed of good, but in a practical training which shall
give the boys trades and force their restless hands and mischievous
minds to occupations that may ensure an honest living, while the girls
find work from which, with few fortunate exceptions, they are still

The American distaste for domestic service seems to be shared in even
greater degree by the children of foreigners born in this country and
to a certain extent Americanized. The mothers have usually been
servants, and still "go out to days' work," but, no matter how numerous
the family, such life for any daughter is despised and discouraged from
the beginning. Work in a bag-factory or any one of the thousand, but to
the employés profitless, industries of a great city is eagerly sought,
and hardships cheerfully endured which if enforced by a mistress would
lead to a riot. To be a shop-girl seems the highest ambition. To have
dress and hair and expression a frowsy and pitiful copy of the latest
Fifth Avenue ridiculousness, to flirt with shop-boys as feeble-minded
and brainless as themselves, and to marry as quickly as possible, are
the aims of all. Then come more wretched, thriftless, ill-managed
homes, and their natural results in drunken husbands and vicious
children; and so the round goes on, the circle widening year by year
till its circumference touches every class in society, and would make
our great cities almost what sober country-folk believe them - "seas of

Happily, to know an evil is to have taken the first step in its
eradication. The work only recently begun - the past five years having
seen its growth from a very humble and insignificant beginning to its
present promising proportions - holds the solution of at least one
equation of the problem. To have made cooking and industrial training
the fashion is to have cleared away at a leap the thorny underbrush and
tangled growth on that Debatable Ground, the best education for the
poor, and to find one's feet firmly set in a way leading to a Promised
Land to which every believer in the new system is an accredited guide.
That cooking-schools and the knowledge of cheap and savory preparation
of food must soon have their effect on the percentage of drunkards no
one can question; but with them, save indirectly, this present paper
does not deal, its object being rather to show what "daily bread" means
to the lower classes of New York, the same showing applying with almost
equal force to the working poor of any large town throughout the
country. Knowledge of this sort must come from patient waiting and
watching as one can, rather than from any systematized observation. The
poor resent bitterly, and with justice, any apparent interference or
spying, and only as one comes to know them well can anything but the
most outside details of life be obtained. In the matter of food there
is an especial touchiness and testiness, every woman being convinced
that to cook well is the birthright of all women. I have found the same
conviction as solidly implanted in far higher grades of society, and it
may be classed as one of the most firmly-seated of popular delusions
that every woman keeps house as instinctively and surely when her time
comes as a duck takes to water.

Such was the faith of Norah Boylan, tenant of half the third floor in a
tenement-house whose location need not be given a "model
tenement-house," six stories high and swarming from basement to attic,
forty children making it hideous with the screaming and wrangling of
incessant fights, while in and over all rested the penetrating,
sickening "tenement-house smell," not to be drowned by steam of washing
or scent of food. Norah's tongue was ready with the complaint all
tongues made in 1878 - hard times; and she faced me now with hands on
her hips and a generally belligerent expression: "An' shure, ma'am, you
know yourself it's only a dollar a day he's been earnin' this many a
day, an' thankful enough to get that, wid Mike overhead wearin' his
tongue out wid askin' for work here an' there an' everywhere. An'
how'll we live on that, an' the rint due reg'lar, an' the agent poppin'
in his ugly face an' off wid the bit o' money, no matter how bare the
dish is? Bad cess to him! but I'd like to have him hungered once an'
know how it feels. If I hadn't the washin' we'd be on the street this

"What do you live on, Norah?"

"Is it 'live'? Thin I could hardly say. It's mate an' petatys an' tea,
an' Pat will have his glass. He's sober enough - not like Mike, that's
off on his sprees every month; but now we don't be gettin' the same as
we used. Pat says there's that cravin' in him that only the whiskey 'll
stop. It's tin dollars a month for the rooms, an' that's two an' a half
a week steady; an' there's only seven an' a half left for the five
mouths that must be fed, an' the fire an' all, for I can't get more'n
the four dollars for me washin'. It's the mate you must have to put
strength in ye, an' Pat would be havin' it three times a day, an' now
it's but once he can; an' that's why he's after the whiskey. The
children an' meself has tay, an' it's all that keeps us up."

"How do you cook your meat, Norah?"

Norah looked at me suspiciously: "Shure, the bit we get don't take
long. I puts it in the pan an' lets it fry till we're ready. Poor folks
can't have much roastin' nor fine doin's. An' by that token it's time
it was on now, if you won't mind, ma'am. The children 'll be in from
school, an' they must eat an' get back."

"I am going in a few moments, Norah. Go right on."

Norah moved aside her boiler, drew a frying-pan from her closet, put in
a lump of fat and laid in a piece of coarse beef some two pounds in
weight. A loaf of bread came next, and was cut up, the peculiar white
indicating plainly what share alum had had in making the lightness to
which she called my attention. A handful of tea went into the tall tin
teapot, which was filled from the kettle at the back of the stove.

"That isn't boiling water, is it?" I ventured.

"It'll boil fast enough," Norah answered indifferently as she pulled
open the draughts, and soon had the top of the stove red hot. The steak
lay in its bed of fat, scorching peacefully, while the tea boiled,
giving off a rank and herby smell.

"Pat doesn't get home to dinner, then, Norah?"

"There's times he does, but mostly not. They'd like a hot bite an' sup,
but it's too far off. There's five goes from here together, an' a
pailful for each - bread an' coffee mostly, an' a bit o' bacon for some.
It's a hot supper I used to be gettin' him, but the times is too hard,
an' we're lucky if we can have our tea an' bread, an' molasses maybe
for the children. Many's the day I wish myself back in old Ireland."

As she talked the children came rushing up the stairs, Norah the
second, pale-faced and slender, leading the way; and I took my leave,
burning to speak, yet knowing it useless. Fried boot-heel would have
been as nourishing and as tooth-some as that steak, and boiled
boot-heel as desirable and far less harmful a drink, yet any word of
suggestion would have roused the quick Irish temper to fever-heat.

"It's Norah can cook equal to myself," Norah had said with pride as she
emptied the black and smoking mass into a dish; and these methods
certainly cannot be said to be difficult to follow.

There is no conservatism like the conservatism of ignorance, yet in
this case want of knowledge there certainly was not. Norah had lived
for two years before her marriage with a family the mistress of which
had taught her patiently and indefatigably till she became able to set
a fairly-cooked meal upon the table, but the knowledge acquired then
seemed to have been laid aside as having no connection with her own
life. I have seen the same thing - though, happily, only in exceptional
cases - among educated Indians, girls who had spent years in the schools
at Faribault or under the direct training of missionaries reverting on
marriage to old wigwam habits, and content to eat the parched corn and
boiled dog of their early experience. The same law holds in full force
among many of the Irish, who, no matter how well trained or how
exacting in their demand for varied food while servants, quickly lose
the desire, and allow only a certain fixed order from which it is
wellnigh impossible to move them.

In this case, tolerably well-to-do at first, hard times had brought
them to this swarming tenement-house, from the various rooms of which,
as I passed down the stairs, came the same odor of burning fat and the
rank steam of long-boiled coffee or tea. My errand had been to find the
address of a little shop-girl, a niece of Norah's, a child who had been
educated at one of the ward schools, and whom no power could induce to
take a place as waitress or chambermaid. To stand twelve or fourteen
hours behind the counter of a Grand street store met her ideas of
gentility and of personal freedom far better than yielding to the
requirements of a mistress; and the six dollars a week went in cheap
finery till the hard times forced her to make it part of the family
fund. Then sore trouble came. The father had died, the mother was in
hospital, from which she was never likely to come out, and Katy, thrown
utterly on her own resources, had found her six dollars all inadequate
to the demands her habits made, and, frightened and perplexed, went
from one cheap boarding-house to another, four or five girls clubbing
together to pay for the wretched room they called home, and still
striving to keep up the appearance necessary for their position. Cheap
jewelry, banged hair and a dress modelled after the latest extremity of
fashion were the ambition of each and all, but neither jewelry nor
puffs and ruffles had been sufficient to keep off the attack of
pneumonia through which these same girls had nursed her, sitting up
turn by turn at night, and taking her duty by day that the place might
still be kept open for her.

Katy's cheeks were flushed and an ominous cough still lingered, but she
spoke cheerfully: "It's my last day in: I can go to-morrow. It's the
beef-tea has done it, I do believe. Did you know Maria brought it to me
every day? I don't know what I'll do without it."

"Learn to make it yourself, Katy."

"Me?" and Katy laughed incredulously. "When would I get time? and what
would I make it on? We don't have a fire but Sundays, and only a show
of one then. And I don't want it, either: I ain't used to it."

"What do you live on, Katy?"

"Why, we did have breakfast and tea here - coffee and meat for
breakfast, and bread and butter and tea for supper. I get a cream-cake
or some drop-cakes for dinner, but for a good while I've just paid a
dollar a week for my share of the room, and bought something for
breakfast - 'most always a pie. You can get a splendid pie for five
cents, and a pretty good one for three; and it's plenty too. That's the
way the girls in the bag-factory do. They don't get but three dollars a
week, and it takes seventy-five cents for their room, so they haven't
got anything for board. Mary Jones says she's settled on pie, because
it stays by better'n anything, and once in a while she goes down to
Fulton Market and has some coffee. I do too, but it spoils you for next
day. You keep thinking how'd you'd like a cup when the chills go
crawling all over you, but it's no use."

"Couldn't it be made in the store? The girls could club together, and
it would cost much less than your pies and candy. The gas is always
burning, and you could have a little water-boiler."

"You don't know much about stores to think that. Why, Mr. Levy watches
like a cat to see we don't eat peanuts or candy: we're fined if he
catches us. I've a good mind to take board at the 'Home,' only I should
hate to be bossed 'round, and you can't get in very often, either, it's
so crowded. But I don't mind so much now, for you see" - Katy's pale
cheeks grew pink - "Jim and I don't mean to wait long. He has ten
dollars a week, and we can manage on that. He says he's 'most poisoned
with the stuff his boarding-house keeper gives him, and he wants me to
keep house. I just laugh. That's a servant-girl's work: 'tain't mine."

The old story. I had seen "Jim," and knew him as rather a
sensible-looking young fellow for an East Side clerk in a cheap store.
What sort of future could lie before them? What help could come from
this untrained child, herself helpless and with too limited
intelligence to understand what demand the new life made upon her? and
could any way be found to open her eyes and make her desire better

Busy with this always fresh problem, I had come to a side street
leading to the market from which two or three small groceries draw
their supplies, and stopped for a moment to look at the flabby,
half-decayed vegetables, the coarse beef and measly-looking pork from
which comes the sickly, heavy smell preceding positive putrefaction.

"Look away! Get the sense of it all," said a brisk voice behind me - a
voice I knew well as that of one who gave days, and often nights, to
work in these very streets. "Did you see that tall woman with the big
basket and a face like a chimney-swallow? She runs a boarding-house
'round on Madison street, and this is the stuff she feeds them on. Poor
wretch! She has a drunken husband and three drinking sons. She means
well, would like to do better by her boarders, but there is rent and
gas and wear and tear of all sorts, and she buys bob veal and stale
fish and rotten vegetables and alum bread, trying to make the ends
meet. I've been there and tasted the messes that come to her table, and
I would drink too if forced to live on them. She's got sense, a
little - enough not to fly in a rage when I told her the food was enough
to make a drunkard of every man in the house. 'I can't help it,' she
said, crying. 'I've only just so much money, and the girl spoils most
of what I do get.' - 'Cook yourself,' I said. - 'I can't,' she answered:
'I don't know any better than the girl. I'll do anything you say.' I am
not a cook: I could not tell her anything. 'Go to cooking-school,' I
said: 'it'll pay you.' - 'I've neither time nor money,' she said; and
there it ended. What's to be done? I've just come round the market. It
is dinner-time, and I think every other man was eating pie. The same
money might have bought him a bowl of strong soup or a plate of savory
and nourishing stew, if there had been anybody with sense enough to
provide it. Up and down, in and out, wherever I go, I see that cooks
are the missionaries needed. Come in here a moment."

I followed up the steps of a "Home" for sailors, planned to give them a
refuge from the traps known as "sailors' boarding-houses." The long
dining-room we entered was spotlessly clean, and some thirty men were
dining. I looked for a moment as my friend spoke with some one sitting
at the head of the table, then passed out.

"You saw," he said, "plenty of food, and all clean as a whistle, but
what sort? Steak fried to a crisp, soggy potatoes, underdone cabbage
and pork, bread rank with alum, and coffee whose only merit is warmth.
Those men are filled, but not fed. The bread alone is condensed
dyspepsia. In an hour the weaker stomachs will have what they call 'a
goneness.' They will crave something, and poor R - - will have half a
dozen of them half drunk or wholly so on his hands by night. He will
pray and exhort, and bundle them up to the Mission if he can, and cry
as he tells me how they will give way and yield to the devil whether or
no. And so it goes. Women must get hold of this thing. It's the first
item in your temperance crusade, and till the people have better food
there is no law or influence that can make them give up drinking. I
wouldn't if I were they."

Here the talk ended. My impetuous friend disappeared around a corner,
and I went my way, a little surer than before of the fact which was
already so distinct a belief it needed no new foundations, that better
food will and must mean better living. Hard times are passing, but none
the less is there still the imperative demand for wider knowledge of
what food those hard-earned dollars shall buy. Philanthropists may urge
what reforms they will - less crowding, purer air, better sanitary
regulations - but this question of food underlies all. The knowledge
that is broad enough to ensure good food is broad enough to mean better
living in all ways; and not till such knowledge is the property of all
women can we look for the "emancipation" from some of the deepest evils
that curse the life of woman in the slums and out. Toward that end all
women who long to help, yet see no outlook, may work, and with its full
recognition will come the day for which we wait - a day whose faint dawn
even now flushes the east and gives promise, dim yet sure, of the
slowly-nearing light, holding even when most clouded the certainty of

Purer manners, nobler laws.



From the great mere set round with sunbright mountains
Full born the river leaps,
Dashing the crystal of a thousand fountains
Down its romantic steeps.

'Tis now a torrent whose untamed endeavor
Is eager for the sea,
Angry that rock or reef should hinder ever
Its frantic liberty.

Then, for a space, a lake and river blended,
It sleeps with tranquil breast,
As if its haste and rage at last were ended,
And all it sought was rest.

In spicy woodpaths by its rapids straying,
I hear, with lingering feet,
Its liquid organ and the treetops playing
Te Deums strangely sweet.

I break the covert: pictured far emerges
On the enraptured sight
The arrowy flow, green isles, a cascade's surges,
Foam-flaked in rosy light,

Still pools, and purples of the sleepy sedges,
The skyward forest-wall,
Old sorrowing pines and hazy mountain-ledges,
And soft blue over all.

O golden hours of summer's precious leisure!
From care and toil apart
Fresh drawn, I taste the angler's gentle pleasure
With friend of equal heart.

Trout leap and glitter, and the wild duck flutters
Where beds of lilies blow:
A loon his long, weird lamentation utters,
And Echo feels his woe.

We see in hemlock shade the reedy shallow,
Where, screened by dusky leaves,
The guileless moose comes down to browse and wallow
On still balsamic eves.

The great blue heron starts as if we sought her,
On pinions of surprise,
And to our lure the darlings of the water
In pink and crimson rise.

Still gliding on, how throng the sweet romances
Of Youth's enchanted land!
A lordly eagle, as our bark advances,
Glares on us, sad and grand.

Onward we float where mellow sunset glory
Streams o'er the lakelet's breast,
And every ripple tells a golden story
Of the transfigured west.

Onward, into the evening's calm and beauty,
To camp and sleep we go:
Thrice bless'd are lives, in tasks of love and duty,
That end in such a glow!



I am Poverty scuffing about in old shoes and rubbers. I _was_ one of
those who, at a good salary, think up smart things to put around in the
corners of the Chicago _Times_. When every newspaper, from the London
_Punch_ down, was making jokes about Elihu Burritt's _Sanskrit for the
Fireside_, it was I who beat them all by saying in solid nonpareil,
"The best way to learn Sanskrit is to board in a family of
Sanskritters." It was I who said, "Let the Communists carry pistols:
they may shoot each other;" and, "Sara Bernhardt's children are
articles of _virtu_."

_O quam me delectat_ Sara Bernhardt! I love such diversified, such
picturesque gifts. Sculpture, painting, acting, writing! This is why I
loved Lydia, who was an adept at numberless arts and accomplishments.
She was a brunette with a clear, cream-tinged skin, red cheeks, rolling
black eyes, ripe velvety lips, and hair of a beautiful hue and rich
lustre - raven black, yet purple as the pigeon's wing in the sun. I
believe it is true that dark people belong to the pre-historic races:
centuries of sunlight are fused in their glowing complexion. Blondes
are beautiful - both the rosy ones with pinkish eyelids and warm golden
locks, and the pale ones with ash-colored hair, gray eyes and dark
brows and lashes - but a florid brunette excels them all.

In seeing Lydia you would make the mistake that you usually make in
judging girls: entering among them, you think their attitudes proclaim
their traits. For instance, you take the most giggling one for a
simpleton, but afterward learn that she is a good scholar and has
accepted the Greek chair in a Western college, and looking again you
see she has a strong frame, a capable head and large bright eyes. Lydia
dressed in the mode, wore the high-heeled shoes that give such a dainty
look to the foot and gait, and came into a room with a great effusion
of fashionableness; yet she was not in the least what she seemed. She
had a great deal of what is more pleasing than mere appearance, and
that is character. She was ambitious and energetic. She did tatting
when she did nothing else - said it concealed her lack of repose and
liability to fidget. She was able to draw _la quintessence de tout_:
she could make a mountain-spring of a mole-hill. She also had a touch
of temper: those who are perfectly amiable are nothing else.

I was a youth blue-eyed and fair of face, tall, thin and having a
complying spirit that has been - But let me not anticipate. The race
after fashion ever wearied me - I shall stop early at some

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Online LibraryVariousLippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 → online text (page 16 of 20)