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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
New York has outgrown, or is outgrowing, its smaller art, but it must not be thought that this has been boxed up and sent to the junk shop or the warehouse. On the contrary, it is still in place, and the bulk of it is treasured and admired. Every little angle of green grass is considered an emerald in the city's girdle, every statue is, more or less, a title of distinction, and almost every marble temple or terra-cotta palace doing service as a bank or an office, is pointed at with pride. And not without some show of reason, for much of it is good, even though wrongly conceived and badly placed. For instance: —
The marble bank building on Fifth Avenue and Thirty-Fourth Street is a very respectable classic edifice which, if placed on a Roman hill, or even a Brooklyn height, might look rather commanding; but what does it on Fifth Avenue, surrounded by sky-scrapers, squeezed into a lot much too small for it, with its approach, and even its steps, cut off by the sidewalk? The Clearing House on Cedar Street is not a bad imperial arch, but there is no vista through it, no approach for it, and no part of it is in focus because of the narrowness of the street. This last statement is true again of the Chamber of Commerce in Liberty Street, with its statues of Jay, Hamilton, and Clinton perched on the facade, or the Stock Exchange on Broad Street, with its sculptured figures in the pediment seen chiefly in detached feet and hands that project over the ledge. Both buildings are distorted in their placings, wanting in perspective, and ineffective, though a zeal for art inspired them.
Some of the new buildings, however, have fared better — the Public Library, for instance. It has sufficient frontage and depth, and can be seen from Fifth Avenue, though it would look more attractive in a larger frame. Commercialism did not dictate either its style or its size. It was built quite as much for beauty as for service, and the citizens of New York seem well pleased that it is beautiful. Everyone looks at it with pleasure as he passes by. Art, more than patriotism, also dictated the clean-cut Washington Arch farther down the avenue, small as it now appears, and perhaps had more to do with the building of Madison Square Garden than considerations of box-office receipts. Some of the purely commercial ventures on Fifth Avenue have paid the highest tribute possible for them to the aesthetics of architecture, as, for examples, the Tiffany and Gorham buildings — both of them excellent in design. As for the new business places, and even some of the West Side factories, they, with club-houses like the University and the Metropolitan, and the recently built residences along the avenues and the side streets, unite in proclaiming a desire for art if not always its fulfillment.
Among the detached sculpture in the parks and streets, bad as much of it always was, and insignificant as most of it has become, there are still some notable examples which people do not care to forget. Aside from the works of Saint Gaudens, there is the "Nathan Hale" of Mac-Monnies in City Hall Park, Browne's fine statue of "Washington" in Union Square (the first equestrian statue cast in America), the "Hunt Memorial" by French on. the east wall of the Central Park, Ward's " Pilgrim " within the park. There is no taint of trade about such works. Even the artless effigies in stone and bronze, with the fountains and monuments which are strewn promiscuously about the city, do not speak of profits and percent-ages. Good or bad, they were put forth in a proper spirit, not for gain, but in desire of beauty.
But the fancy for the things of art goes beyond a statue in the park, or a classic lamp-post on the avenue. There is the huge Metropolitan Museum, full of art-plunder to the doors, which shows a sense of acquisition if not perhaps the most critical. judgment. The Metropolitan is not only the one famous museum in America, but, by virtue of its valuable contents, is fast becoming of world importance. It has money endowments, many wealthy patrons, and is continually enlarging its collections and extending its usefulness. In such circumstances it cannot fail as a dominant factor in the art-education of the people. That New Yorkers enjoy it and profit by it is evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of visitors that go to it. It is, all told, the most popular place in the city.
There are many other semi-public collections of marbles, pictures, porcelains, and antiquities in the city, such as those of the New York Historical Society, or the Lenox Library, or the City Hall; but all of these put together do not equal the quantities of fine art in the New York houses. There are hundreds of galleries of pictures, with bronzes, fabrics, and furniture, in individual hands, which do educational service in a quiet way among coteries of friends. These collections are famous for their pictures by the Fontainebleau-Barbizon painters, for Manet and Monet, for old Dutch and Flemish painters, for old masters of Italy and Spain. The purchase of these works has, in recent years, set the European art markets agog. Almost every masterpiece that turns up in the auction room is bid in for New York, until Europe has cried out against the draining of its resources. But pictures, marbles, tapestries, porcelains, furniture, medals, plate, rugs, keep coming to this port. The result is that New York has become the great art market of the world. The galleries of the dealers are on almost every block of middle Fifth Avenue, and the trade in antiquities (even forged ones) has become very large.
The city is not only the chief market for foreign art, but it is the chief center of domestic production. Here are located not only the museums, but the societies like the National Academy of Design, the New York Water Color Club, the American Water Color Society, the Architectural League, the Society of Decorative Art. Here also are the art schools of the National Academy, the Art Students' League, the Cooper Union, and many others. There are upwards of ten thousand artists in the city, working in their professions, making a living by various art industries; and thousands of other people are interested with them in exhibiting, or explaining, or selling their work. If all these various manifestations of artistic interest were added together, one might be pardoned for thinking of New York as a new Athens or FIorence on the shore of this western world.
And what about the interest in music and the drama? Is there any other city, except possibly Berlin, that sup-ports, as New York does, two (three, if we include the old Academy) opera-houses, half a dozen conservatories of music, two dozen musical societies, and thirty musically inclined churches? Perhaps there is not such a universal love for the art as these comprehensive figures would imply. New York is not so musically set as Dresden or six weekly newspapers, with eighty or more magazines. Among these are the best newspapers and periodicals in the country. They are issued in all languages, and contain enough miscellaneous information to make a good-sized encyclopaedia; but vast as is their influence in education, the average business man in New York does not take them too seriously. He looks them over, reading an article here and there. He has, however, a more abiding interest in books. They are articles of trade, like the newspapers; but New York is well disposed to value them as matters of culture, too. Its many public libraries and their liberal support bear witness to this spirit. Aside from the large library on Fifth Avenue, to contain the Astor, Tilden, and Lenox foundations, aside from the fifty or sixty Carnegie branches of it, there are over fifty other public or semi-public libraries in Manhattan, containing hundreds of thousands of books, on all subjects, and almost every one of them free to readers. This does not include the libraries of the many clubs or private schools or colleges or societies, where admission is obtained only by card.
This publishing of many periodicals and books in New York results in the city being well supplied with editors and authors. At one time Boston had the distinction of being the home of American writers, but to-day New York may be considered the great gathering place. They come from all over the United States, drawn by the intellectual advantages of the city, and in spite of its (to them) rather repellent commerce and wealth. They gather at clubs like the Century and the Authors, where with painters, sculptors, architects, lawyers, and public men generally, they create an atmosphere of their own which is sometimes described in magazine articles under such a caption perhaps as "Literary New York." That atmosphere is a decided influence in the city, though not known on the Stock Exchange nor revealed in any foreigner's three-weeks impressions of the city, written for Continental consumption. Indeed, some of our millionaires are not exempt from it, but a part of it. They may even think that, rather than money, their title to distinction.
Still another step, at the risk of becoming wearisome, to show what this Gotham of dollars-and-cents does for definite and systematic education among its rising generations. Any city may encourage browsing in public libraries or museums, or listening in lecture rooms and theaters; but New York does more than that. It has, for instance, a school system, working thoroughly and efficiently in some six hundred schoolhouses, which, with about ten thousand teachers, is giving a primary education, at least, to some six hundred thousand school children.
The expense of this is large (about twenty-nine mil-lions of dollars a year), and it is no trivial test of New York's desire for knowledge for its children that it sup-ports this expense without complaint. Furthermore, it insists that all children in the city between the ages of eight and fourteen shall attend, — shall receive the equipment of a common-school education, at least. To enforce this requirement it employs thirty or more attendance officers whose duty it is to bring in the delinquents. For those who cannot attend in the daytime there are night schools; and all winter there are lecture courses in the schoolhouses, on almost every conceivable subject, free to anyone who will come, parents as well as children. Any student who wishes to go higher than the public schools has the opportunity of doing so. There are a dozen high schools, a normal college for women, and the city college for men, with industrial schools of various kinds and descriptions. There is practically no limit to what the ambitious youth may attain in education; and that, too, without cost.
The number of private schools in the city would be difficult to estimate; but in Manhattan there are at least fifty (some of them with local and some with national reputations), where a secondary education is taught to thousands of pupils.' Many of these schools prepare for college, and New York has a goodly number of institutions of collegiate rank. There is Columbia University to start with — one of the largest and best in the United States. It was founded before the Revolution, and its beginnings, with six professors and a handful of students, were extremely modest, as were those of New York itself; but to-day it has nearly seven hundred instructors on its faculty list and, with its adjuncts, Barnard and Teachers colleges, and its schools of law and medicine, over eight thousand students. Its student body is made up from all nationalities, from all quarters of the world, and the subjects taught include almost everything dreamed of in the science of pedagogics. It is a great university, and it has a very positive influence upon New York life, not-withstanding the common belief that the city is only amenable to the persuasion of business.
Next to Columbia comes New York University with several thousand students and its group of fine buildings on University Heights; and not far away is the College of the City of New York (with several thousand more students), newly equipped and newly housed on Washington Heights. These are the principal colleges, and yet there might be others mentioned, like St. John's College and St. Francis Xavier, with many professional schools of high rank. There are several important theological seminaries and law schools, with colleges of medicine, of dentistry, of pharmacy, and the like, outside of the universities proper. Besides these there are postgraduate schools, correspondence schools, summer schools, university-extension schools, trade and training schools. In fact, if one had the actual statistics for all the educational doings in the city they would go far in bolstering up an argument to prove that New York was school mad.
The professional and trade schools, like the business colleges that flourish on every block, are more or less designed to fit the student for money-making; but the bulk of the study in New York is, perhaps, more for culture than for commerce. At any rate, a large part of it is never used as a means of gain, but rather as a means of understanding and appreciating life. There are plenty of people in New York who think in terms of philosophy though engaged most of their time in details of trade. Gaining a livelihood is not incompatible with living intellectually, and knowing how to figure out a commission does not necessarily mean an ignorance of everything else in existence.
But the world does not care to consider statistics of education, nor does it like the revising of its opinions. It made up its mind long ago that New York was a business center; and, success in one department usually arguing failure in every other department, it followed, naturally enough, that New York was, outside of business, a woful ignoramus. A reputation, whether deserved or not, is a difficult thing to get rid of. No matter how much London or Paris may grow in grace or change in appearance, its reputation for ugliness or beauty, for dirt or cleanliness, for piety or wickedness, goes right on in the rut of a hundred years ago. Chicago, for example, has the name of being a sordid spot of earth with a packing-house soul, a wheat-pit mind, and a taste for things of magnitude rather than of quality; but one wonders just what percentage of its people are so constituted. Is Chicago, as a whole, more avid of the dollar than any other city, here or elsewhere ? Has it less taste than Cincinnati, or more love of the grandiose than San Francisco? Again, Boston's proximity to Harvard has given it the name of being our first city in culture, as Philadelphia's connection with the early government of the country has established its reputation for family traditions; but is it a fact that Boston always asks: What do you know? or Philadelphia: Who were your grand-parents? Are not such questions asked occasionally in every city of the country?
By the same rumor-tongue the stranger in New York is told that the only inquiry made here is as to the extent of one's wealth; but, outside of the business world, how many people ask that question seriously? And, when asked, how many people care about what answer is given? Is it not a fact that many a prominent citizen in New York, many a highly esteemed leader in science, literature, or the public service, is remarkable for poverty rather than riches? Even in the smart world of fashionable society there are scores of people who have no money to speak of, and yet are welcomed for their manners or their taste or their mentality. In fact, fashionable society, and the man in the street who perhaps is not society in any sense, join in admiration of the poor man, especially if he is a person of intellectual and moral quality. And, by way of contrast, who does not know his group of millionaires in the city who are absolutely ignored in the city's life — people who have nothing to their credit but a bank account, and who never rise to any position whatever?
The truth is that in those things that stand for American ideals or their absence, New York is not very different from any other city in the United States. It has Boston's culture, and Philadelphia's longing after immortality through ancestor worship, only trebled and quadrupled numerically. It has also Chicago's wheat-pit mind and love of sheer bigness, but once more the disposition is doubly intensified by numbers. None of these cities have been exactly reputed, for the single sentence that is supposed to epitomize is always extravagant in statement. The cities have good, bad, and indifferent qualities, all mixed together; and, like the average American citizen, they are perhaps neither very good nor yet very bad, but of a middle quality. New York is larger and contains more possibilities for good and for evil than the others — that is about the only difference.