A Traveler's Notes: Destination New York 1856 Part II

New York City
Wednesday, March 7.It is impossible to describe the interest with which one draws up the window blind on the first morning after a late arrival in a new place. Long before I began to think of dressing, I had been staring out on the sea of roofs which spread out below the window of the loftiest floor of our hotel, wondering what spire this was and what dome was that. Though I then enjoyed intensely the novelty of a new city, I shall say very little of New York, both because it has been so often described, and because during my stay my time was so occupied by business, that I had only scanty opportunities of noting matters of general interest. The Clarendon is in Fourth Avenue, the continuation of Broadway. In the newer part of New York, the streets running north and south are called avenues, and are numbered first, second, and third, &c., beginning from the east. The city occupies a long narrow slip of land Manhattan Island between Long Island Sound on the Atlantic side, called East river, and the Hudson or North river, so that the longitudinal streets are few. The streets, crossing at right angles, are numbered 1st street, 2d street, up to 350th street, on the maps, but they are not built so far. In the older part of the town, the streets are designated by names, not numbers, and there they are irregular enough. Broadway, from Union Square to the water at the Battery, is about two miles and a half long. The Battery is a semi-circular open space, on the extreme point of Manhattan Island, and looking out of the bay. Trees grow there, and there are walks. Time was when the houses round were sought after by the elite, and when the walks of the Battery were crowded with the youth and beauty of the city. But the fashionable days of the Battery are numbered. Its tall dwellings are turned into huge warehouses or "stores," and its walks are all but deserted. As we stood looking out on the beautiful bay and towards the New Jersey shore, the Baltic passed, bound for Liverpool. The vessels of the Collins' line, from having no bowsprit and no figure-head, look at a little distance disproportionately short, and consequently clumsy, but they are in reality of a handsome build.

The course of this day's peregrinations took me through Wall Street, the Lombard Street of New York. The locale of the chief banking-houses, I anticipated seeing a quiet set of offices. Instead of this, it is one of the dirtiest and most bustling streets in New York. From the custom of business firms having large signboards, the fronts of the houses are disfigured with those ugly shop looking announcements. The buildings are of the most incongruous character. Here, a fine massive granite Exchange; there, nearly opposite, a marble reproduction of the classical Greek temple accommodates the Custom-house. Gray granite, white marble, and red sandstone, check the color as well as the character of the architecture, while noisy groups occupy the side-walks, or excited speculators jostle you rudely as you pass. There are a few idle loungers, but the majority are in a hurry. Trinity, the finest church in New York, stands on the opposite side of Broadway, facing Wall Street. It is but a few steps from the spot where the lust for gold is the reigning passion to the stillness of its dimly lighted aisles; and keen sarcasms have been uttered on what has been called the incongruous proximity.

A little way up Broadway is the Park. It is a large square, filled with trees. In the centre stands the City hall, a handsome building of marble, but the trees are planted so thickly all around, that in spring and summer they quite hide the buildings. On the opposite side of Broadway, facing the Park is the Astor house. The front towards the street is of dressed granite, and the effect is imposing. Some of the warehouses in Broadway are built of marble. Most prominent of these is Stewart's Generally, however, the houses are irregular, and confusedly huddled together, a fine house and a hovel beside each other.

Thursday, March 8. Much amused this morning at the breakfast-table with a specimen of Young America. A little boy of six or seven came in alone, and sat gravely down, ordered, with the greatest self-possession, beef-steaks and potatoes, and awaited their coming with the utmost dignity. We saw this repeated often elsewhere. There are no children, in our sense of the term, in America only little men and women. They seem born with all the responsibility of citizenship, and wear it with great gravity. The merest boy will give his opinion upon the subject of conversation among his seniors; and he expects to be listened to, and is. The habit gives self-possession, and a fluency and ease of expression, but leads to an undue sense of self-importance among the young.

At the Clarendon, the tables are waited by girls. They are dressed in uniform frocks, either pink or blue, with short white frocks over, and they look excessively smart. They wear rings, and walk about with great dignity and impressments a great deal too much for your comfort, for they don't hurry themselves though one-half your food is cooling and spoiling, while they are not particularly active in getting the remainder. Indeed, we used to think they were engaged in some private business of their own in the kitchen, while ostensibly looking after our breakfasts. They took time enough before they brought them to do a "smart bit" of flirtation with the cooks. Some of them who are good-looking seem to know it right well, and stand in attitudes often very graceful and pretty. One threw a corn-cake at another the other morning, so there is a good deal of the free-and-easy with them.

I made a little escapade this forenoon, to Taylor's, to eat ices. The ice-saloons of New York are one of its features. Taylor's "Store" is a restaurant on a gigantic scale. In the centre of the saloon, a flight of steps leads clown to the basement, in which is another large apartment fitted up with tables for dinners and suppers. The hall above, with its marble floor, white and gilded walls, lit by a range of ten windows, has a light and elegant appearance, and can accommodate a great many guests. Thomson's is a rival establishment, on an equal scale of magnificence. I counted seventy-six tables in one room, and there was another up-stairs. To one or other of these for we never could make up our mind which was best, and patronized them about equally we were almost daily visitors in the forenoon during our stay in New York.

The luxury of eating ice, even in winter, is not appreciated in the humid climate of England.

I visited Putnam's book-establishment. But the largest book-shop, and certainly the finest I have seen anywhere (except one in Cincinnati), is Appleton's. It is in Broadway. The building was erected first for a library, but bought by Mr Appleton. The firm occupies the street floor, and their shop is a very fine hall, lined with books. They are very extensive publishers and importers; but though I got De Tocqueville's work on America, I could not find Mackay's here or elsewhere. Appleton's was a most tempting lounge. We could see on the tables almost all the recent books published in England, and at prices which would have been irresistible, had it not been the impossibility of openly bringing them home.

In the evening, we visited some American friends whom we had known in London. They, like many other of the New York merchants, had their own house two hours off by railway, and merely boarded in town in winter. This is a very prevalent custom. The Clarendon is full of families spending the winter in this way in New York. To our English notions of home comfort, the hotel life of many American families appears very disagreeable and dissipating. Later still, about ten, a friend called upon us. He told us that from seven till nine is the proper time for gentlemen to make calls in New York, and that it is quite customary to go in your walking-dress, unless you know that there is likely to be a reception where you are going, in which case you put on evening-dress. This seems a sensible sort of plan for a business community. It would not suit so well in England, where our families like to have their evenings at home free from constant interruption, and to secure which, custom has fixed the period of calls previous to sun-down. I seldom observed books or work in the drawing-rooms in New York, even in private houses. These rooms are not in general use, but kept for show. Work is done in the basement or bed-rooms. Houses have usually two front doors one admitting to the basement floor, embracing what are called the family rooms, where the ladies sit and work; the other door is reached by a flight of steps, and leads into the "parlours" or drawing-rooms, which are only used to receive visitors. There is great want of comfort in all this. There are, of course, many who have a better appreciation of the value of a good house, and take the use of it, who leave the basement to the servants, and enjoy daily their suites of drawing, sitting, library, and dining-rooms. In such houses, you find the concomitant marks of educated taste books, pictures, not for show, but use. I remember with pleasure more than one such true "home."

At the publishing-office of the newspapers, there are boards on which the telegraph of the steamer, and other important news, is placarded. On one of these, today, I saw the announcement, "Bill Poole died at five o'clock this morning." On inquiry, I learned that Bill Poole was a pugilist in the American interest; and having incurred the enmity of some fellow-ruffians on the Irish side, they set upon him in a drinking-house, and stabbed and shot him, whereof he died. On the faith of this, he has been raised to the rank of a martyr for his country. Of him, more anon.

Friday, March 9. Disliking the carelessness and slowness of the Clarendon, we removed to-day to the St Nicholas. Everything here is on a most extended scale. There is always a crowd of people in the hall; and in the corridors and lobbies up-stairs, well-dressed ladies and gentlemen are ever walking to and fro. There are two dining-halls and two tea-rooms. We dined to-day in one of the smaller halls, with about 170 others. The large hall was nearly full also. There were crowds of waiters, Irishmen, and they are very expert and attentive. An idea of the dinner may be gathered from the fact, that we had our choice of two soups, two kinds Of fish, ten boiled dishes, nine roast dishes, six relishes, seventeen entrées, three cold dishes, five varieties of game, thirteen varieties of vegetables, seven kinds of pastry, and seven fruits, with ice-cream and coffee. The wines numbered eight brands of Madeira, seventeen of sherry, eighteen of champagne, six of port, four of Burgundy, twenty of hock, sixteen of claret, six sauternes, nine varieties of brandy, three liqueurs, and Scotch ale, India paleale, and London porter, the latter three at eighteen pence a pint each. The price of one hock was $10 or £2 per bottle. The favorite wine was champagne, a native variety of which, called catawba, is very good.

One connects with New York the idea of Barnum's Museum, and I went this evening to see it. It is at the corner of the Park, and Broadway, opposite the Astor-house. There is a very extensive collection of "things" a live boa-constrictor, twenty-five feet long, and a live giraffe; a great many horrible looking portraits; wax figures, which give the natives most erroneous ideas of Wellington, Nelson, Napoleon, and the host of other notables they pretend to represent; coins, antiquities, curiosities, real and manufactured, the veritable axe (there are at least sixteen other veritable axes) that killed Captain Cook, specimens in natural history, &c. &c. But the chief attraction in this museum, as in the Boston one, seemed to be scenic representations. To-night, it was Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." There was a heavy hit at England, in the shape of a reference to our manufacturing population, who were represented as being kept by the upper classes in a state of involuntary ignorance and depression. This is put into St Clair's mouth in an apocryphal conversation with a Vermonter on the Mississippi steamer, and he is made to use it as an argument in favor of slavery, to show that the "domestic institution" is practically not worse than the condition of the lower classes in Britain. This, of course, is a sophism, and no argument; for if it were true as to fact, still two blacks do not make one white." It seemed, however, to accord with a somewhat anti-British feeling in the audience (one of the "baser sort"), for they applauded vehemently.

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: A Traveler's Notes: Destination New York  1856 Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: America by river and rail; or, Notes by the way on the New World and its people. By Wiliam Ferguson, F.L.S.London, J. Nisbet and co., 1856.
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