Greenwich Village - And Then More Villagers
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A meeting place for the few who are struggling ever and ever for an art that will be truly American. An art that is not hidebound by the deadening influences of a decadent Europe, or the result of intellectual theories evolved by those whose only pleasure in existence is to create laws for others to obey . . . an art, let us say, that springs out of the emotional depths of creative spirit, courageous and unafraid of rotting power, or limited scope . . . an art whose purpose is flaming beauty of creation and nothing else.—HAROLD HERSY, in The Quill (Greenwich Village).
SOMEONE said today to the author of this book:
" How can you write about the Village? You don't live here. Live here a few years and then perhaps you'll have something to say!"
It is by way of answer that the following little tale is quoted; it is an old tale but, after a fashion, it seems to fit.
Once upon a time an explorer discovered a country and set about to write a book concerning it. Then the people of the country became some-what indignant and asked:
"Why should a stranger, who has scarcely learned his way about in our land, attempt to describe it? We, who have lived in it and know it, will write its chronicles ourselves."
So the traveller sat down and shut the book in which he had begun to write and said:
" Well and good. Do you write about your country, the land you have lived in so long and know so well, and we will see what we shall see."
So the people of the country—or their scribes, a most gifted company—began the task of describing that which they knew and loved, and had lived in : and with since birth. And after they were through they took the fruits of their joint labours to an assemblage of kings in a far-off place.
And the kings said, after they had read:
" This is beautiful literature, but what is the country like,—that of which they write? "
So one of their chamberlains, who was a plain soul, said sensibly:
" Your Majesties, there is only one fault to find with the book written by these people about their country, and that is that they know it too well to describe it well."
Therefore one of the kings said, " How can that be truth? For what we are close to we must see more clearly than others who view it from afar."
So the sensible chamberlain took a certain little object and held it close to the eyes of one of the kings, and cried, "What is this? "
And the king, blinking and scowling, said after a bit:
"It is a volcano! "
The chamberlain answered, " Wrong; it is an inkstand," and showing it proved that he spoke truth.
Then he held another thing close before the eyes of another king and cried again, " What is this? "
And this king, puzzled, said, " I think it is a little piece of cloth."
" Wrong," said the sensible chamberlain. " It is the statue of the Winged Victory."
And this happened not once but many times until at length the kings understood. And they made a law that no one should stand too close to the thing he wished to see clearly. And they added their judgment that only the visitors to a country could see it as it is.
So the traveller dipped his quill in ink once more and started writing his book. It is not yet known how successful he was.
Travellers make terrible errors, and yet at times they bring back fragments of truth that the natives of the land have left unheeded scattered on the soil of the countryside. Sometimes their fragments prove to be useless and without value, for there are travellers and travellers, and some will be as stupid and as blind as the rest are clever. If this book turns out to be written by one of the stupid travellers—try to be generous, you Villagers—but then the Village is always generous!
The studio life of Greenwich is really and truly as primitive, as picturesque, as poverty-stricken and as gaily adventurous as the story-tellers say. People really do live in big, quaint, bare rooms with scarcely enough to buy the necessaries of life; and they are undoubtedly gay in the doing of it. There is a sort of camaraderie among the " Bohemians " of the world below Fourteenth Street which the more restricted uptowners find it hard to believe in. It is difficult for those uptowners to understand a condition of mind which makes it possible for a number of ambitious young people in a studio building to go fireless and supperless one day and feast gloriously the next; to share their rare windfalls without thought of obligation on any side; to burn candles instead of kerosene in order to dine at " Polly's"; to borrow each other's last pennies for books or pictures or drawing materials, knowing that they will all go without butter or milk for tomorrow's breakfast.
If one is hard up, one expects to be offered a share in someone's good fortune; if one has had luck oneself, one expects, as a matter of course, to share it. Such is the code of the studios.
Anabel, for example, is sitting up typing her newest poem at i A.M. when a knock comes on the studio door. She opens it to confront the man who lives on the top floor and whom she has never met. She hasn't the least idea what his name is. He carries a tea caddy, a teapot and a teacup.
" Sorry," he explains casually, " but I saw your light, and I thought you'd let me use your gas stove to make some tea. Mine is out of commission. Just go ahead with your work, while I fuss about. Maybe you'd take a cup when it's ready? "
Anabel does, and he retires, cheerfully unconscious of anything unconventional in the episode.
" Jimmy," calls Louise, the fashion illustrator, from the front door, one day, " I have to have two dollars to pay my gas bill. Got any? "
" One-sixty," floats down a voice from upstairs.
" Chuck it down, please. I'll be getting some pay tomorrow, and we can blow it in."
So Jimmy chucks it down. Louise is a nice girl, and would merrily " chuck " him the same amount if she happened to have it. That's all there is to it.
There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the wickedness or at least the impropriety of Greenwich Village—and some of the talk is by people who ought to know better. The Village is, to be sure, entirely unconventional and incur-ably romantic and dramatic in its tastes. It is appallingly honest, dangerously young in spirit and it is rather too intense sometimes, keyed up unduly with ambition and emotion and the eagerness of living. But wicked? Not a bit of it!
And the heavenly, inconsequent, infectious, absurd gaiety of it!
The Lady Who Owns the Parrot (Pollypet is the bird's name) appears in a new hat; a gorgeous, new hat, with a band of scarlet and green feathers.
" Whence the more than Oriental splendour? " demands in surprise the Poet from the Third Floor, who knows that the Lady is not patronising Fifth Avenue shops at present.
" Pollypet is moulting!" explains the Lady of the Parrot, with a laugh.
Dear, merry, kindly, pitiful life of the studios! —irresponsible, perhaps, and not of vast economic importance, but so human and so enchanting; so warm when it is bitter cold, so rich when the larder is empty, so gay when disappointment and failure are sitting wolf-like at the door.
A rich woman who loves the Village and of ten times goes down there to buy her gifts rather than get them from the more conservative places uptown, told me that once when she went to a Village gift-shop to purchase a number of presents, she found the proprietor away. She was asked to pick out what she wanted, and make a list. She did. Nobody even questioned her accuracy. The next time she went she had a friend with her, who was, I imagine, more or less thrilled by the notion of approaching the bad, bold city, she was from out of town. The shopkeeper was out in the back garden dressed in blue overalls and shirt, hoeing vigorously.
" Is this the heart of Bohemia? " demanded the astonished provincial.
After their purchases were made and done up, they wanted twine. Don't forget, please, that this was a shop.
" Twine? " murmured the picturesque proprietor gently. " Of course I should have some; I must remember to get some twine ! "
The sympathies are always ready there, the pennies too, when there are any! A lame man, a sick woman, a little child, a forlorn dog or cat,—they have only to go and sit on the steps of one of those blessed studio buildings, to receive pity, help and cheer. And—ye gods !—isn't the fact well known ! And isn't it taken advantage of,just! The swift, unreasoning charity of these Bohemians is so well recognised that it is a regular graft for the unscrupulous.
But they keep right on being cheated right and left; thank heaven, they will never learn to be wiser!
This difference between the Village view and the conventional standpoint is very difficult to analyse. It really can only be made clear by examples. As, for instance:
It is fairly late in the evening. In one of the little tea shops is a group of girls and men smoking. To them enters a youth, who is hailed with " How is Dickey's neuralgia? "
The newcomer grins and answers: " Better, I guess. He's had six drinks, and is now asleep upstairs on Eleanore's couch. He'll be all right when he wakes up."
They laugh, but quite sympathetically, and the subject is dismissed.
Now, there is a noteworthy point in this trifling episode, though it may appear a trifle obscure at first. There is, to be sure, nothing especially interesting or edifying in the fact of a young man's drinking himself into insensibility to dull a face-ache; the thing has been known before. Neither is it an unheard-of occurrence for a friendly and charitably inclined woman to grant him harbour room till he has slept it off. The only striking point about this is that it is taken so entirely as a matter of course by the Villagers. It no more astonishes them that Eleanore should give up her couch to a male acquaintance for an indefinite number of night hours, than that she should give him a cup of tea. It is entirely the proper, kindly thing to do; if Eleanore had not done it, she would not be a Villager, and the Village would have none of her.
It may be further remarked that, if you should go upstairs to Eleanore's studio, you would find that she takes the presence on the couch as calmly as though it were a bundle of laundry. She is in no sense disconcerted by the occasional snore that wakes the midnight echoes. She works peacefully on at the black-and-white poster which she is going to submit tomorrow. She does not resent Dickey at all. Neither does she watch his slumbers tenderly nor hover over him in the approved manner. Eleanore is not the least bit sentimental,--few Villagers are. They are merely romantic and kindly, which are different and sturdier graces.
Toward morning Dickey will wake and Eleanore will make him black coffee and send him home. And there will be the end of that.
Conceive such a situation on the outside!
Imagine the feminine flutter of the conventional Julia. Fancy, above all, the hungry gossip of conventional Julia's conventional friends! But in the Village there is very little scandal, and practically no slander. They are very slow to think evil.
And this in spite of their rather ridiculous way of talking. They do, a number of them, give the uninitiated an impression of moral laxity. Their phrases, " the free relation," " the rights of sex," " suppressed desires," " love without bonds," " liberty of the individual " do, when jumbled up sufficiently, make a composite picture of strange and lurid aspect. But actually, they are not one atom less moral than any other group of human beings,—in fact, thanks to their unquestionable ideals and their habit of fearless thinking, they are, I think, a good bit more so.
"While I lived in the Village," writes one shrewd man, " I heard of more impropriety and saw less of it than anywhere I've ever been!"
Here is another glimpse:
The casual visitor to one of the basement " shops " climbs down the steep steps and pauses at the door to look at the picture. It is rather early, and only two customers have turned up so far. They are sitting in deep, comfortable chairs smoking and drinking (as usual, ginger-ale).
One of the proprietors—a charmingly pretty girl —is sweeping, preparatory to the evening " trade." When her husband comes in she is going to leave him in charge and go to the Liberal Club for a dance, so she is exquisitely dressed in a peach-coloured gown, open of neck and short of sleeve. She is slim and graceful and her bright-brown hair is cropped in the Village mode. She is the most attractive maid-of-all-work that the two " customers " have ever seen. When, pausing in her labours, she offers them her own cigarette case with the genuine simplicity and grace of a child offering sweetmeats, their subjugation is complete. Though they are strangers in a strange land—they have only dropped in to find out an address of a friend who lives in the Village—they never misunderstand the situation, their hostess nor the atmosphere for a moment. No one misunderstands the charming, picturesque camaraderie of the Village—unless they have been reading Village novelists, that breed held in contempt by Harry Kemp and all the Greenwichers. Anyone who goes there with an open mind will carry it away filled with nothing but good things—save sometimes perhaps a little envy.
And, by the bye, that habit of calling at strange places to locate people is emphatically a Village custom. Or rather, perhaps, it should be put the other way: the habit of giving some " shop" or eating place instead of a regular address is most prevalent among Villagers. A Villager is seldom in his own quarters unless he has a shop of his own. But if he really " belongs" he is known to hundreds of other people, and the enquiring caller will be passed along from one place to another, until, in time, he will be almost certain to locate his nomadic friend.
" Billy Robinson? Why, yes, of course, we know him. No, he hasn't been in tonight. But you try some of the other places that he goes to. He's very apt to drop in at the ` Klicket' during the evening. Or if he isn't there try ` The Mad Hatter's,'—' Down the Rabbit Hole' you know; -or let's see—he'll be sure to show up at the Club some time before midnight. If you don't find him come back here; maybe he'll drop in later, or else someone will who has seen him."
Of course, he is found eventually,—usually quite soon, for the Village is a small place, and a true Village in its neighbourliness and its readiness to pass a message along.
Really, there is nothing quainter about it than this intimate and casual quality, such as is known in genuine, small country towns. Fancy a part of New York City—Gotham, the cold, the 'selfish, the unneighbourly, the indifferent in which everyone knows everyone else and takes a personal interest in them too; where distances are slight and pleasant, where young men in loose shirts with rolled-up sleeves, or girls hatless and in working smocks stroll across Sixth Avenue from one square to another with as little self-consciousness as though they were meandering down Main Street to a game of tennis or the village store! Sixth Avenue, indeed, has come to mean nothing more to them than a rustic bridge or a barbed-wire fence,—something to be gotten over speedily and forgotten. They even, by some alchemy of view point, seem to give it a rural air from Jefferson Market down to Fourth Street—these cool-looking, hatless young people who make their leisurely way down Washington Place or along Fourth Street. People pass them, —people in hats, coats and carrying bundles; but the Villagers do not notice them. They do not even look at them pityingly; they do not look at them at all. Your true Green-Village denizen does not like to look at unattractive objects if he can possibly avoid it.
Of course, they do make use of Sixth Avenue occasionally, on their rare trips uptown. But it is in the same spirit that a country dweller would take the railway in order to get into the city on necessary business. As a matter of fact there is no corner of New York more conveniently situated for transportation than this particular section of Greenwich. I came across a picturesque real estate advertisement the other day:
"If you ever decide to kill your barber and fly the country, commit the crime at the corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue. There is probably no other place in the world that offers as many avenues of flight."
But nothing short of dire necessity ever takes a Villager uptown. He, or she, may go downtown but not up. Uptown nearly always means something distasteful and boring to the Village; they see to it that they have as few occasions for going there as possible.
Anyway, uptown, for them, ends very far downtown! The fifties, forties, thirties, even the twenties, are to them the veritable wilderness, the variously repugnant sections of relatively outer darkness.
Do you remember Colonel Turnbull who had so much trouble in selling his house at Eighth Street because it was so far out of town? Here is a modern and quite surprisingly neat analogy:
Two Village women of my acquaintance met the other day. Said one tragically : " My dear, isn't it awful? We've had to move uptown! Since the baby came, we need a larger house, but it almost breaks my heart! "
" I should think so! " gasped the second woman in consternation. " You've always been such regular Villagers. What shall we do without you? It's terrible! Where are you moving to, dear? "
"West Eleventh Street!" sobbed the sad, prospective exile.
There are Villagers who while scarcely celebrities are characters so well known, locally, as to stand out in bizarre relief even against that variegated background of personalities. There is Doris, the dancer, slim, strange, agile, with a genius for the centre of the Bohemian stage, an expert, exotic style of dancing, and a singular and touching passion for her only child. At the Greenwich masquerades she used to shine resplendent, her beautiful, lithe body glorious with stage-jewels, and not much else; for the time being she has flitted away, but some day she will surely return like a darkly brilliant butterfly, and the Village will again thrill to her dancing. There is Hyppolite, the anarchist, dark and fervid; there is " Bobby" Edwards, the Village troubadour, with his self-made and self-decorated ukelele, and his cat, Dirty Joe; there is Charlie immortal barber!—whose trade is plied in sublime accordance with Village standards, and whose " ad " runs as follows :
" The only barber shop in the Village where work is done conforming to its ideals. . . . Four barbers in attendance supervised by the popular boy-proprietor—CHARLIE."
There is Peggy, the artist's model, who has posed for almost every artist of note, and who is as pretty as a pink carnation.
There is Tiny Tim—of immense proportions —who keeps the Tiny Tim Candy Shop; an impressive person who carries trays of candy about the Village, and who swears that he has sweets to match your every mood.
" If they don't express your character, I'll take them back!" he declares. Though how he could take them back. . . . However, in the Village you need not be too exact. There is " Ted " Peck's Treasure Box. Here all manner of charming things are sold; and here Florence Beales exhibits her most exquisite studies in photography.
There is the strong-minded young woman, who is always starting clubs; there is the Osage Indian who speaks eight languages and draws like a god; there are a hundred and one familiar spirits of the Village, eccentric, inasmuch as they are unlike the rest of the world, but oh, believe me, a goodly company to have as neighbours.
People have three mouthpieces, three vehicles of expression, besides their own lips. We are not talking now about that self-expression which is to be found in individual act or word in any form. We are speaking in a more practical and also a more social sense. In this sense we may cite three distinct ways in which a community may become articulate: through its press; through its clubs or associations; through its entertainments and social life. Greenwich has a number of magazines, an even larger number of clubs and an unconscionable number of ways of entertaining itself—from theatrical companies to balls!
Of course the best known of the Greenwich magazines is The Masses, owned by Max East-man and edited by Floyd Dell. It has, in a sense, grown beyond the Village, inasmuch as it now circulates all over the country, wherever socialistic or anarchistic tendencies are to be found. But its inception was in Greenwich Village, and in its infant days it strongly reflected the radical, young, insurgent spirit which was just beginning to ferment in the world below Fourteenth Street. In those days it was poor and struggling too (as is altogether fitting in a Village paper) and lost nothing in freshness and spontaneity and vigour from that fact.
"You might tell," said Floyd Dell, with a twinkle, " of the days when The Masses was in Greenwich Avenue, and the editor, the business manager and the stenographer played ball in the street all day long!"
It is, perhaps, symbolic that The Masses in moving uptown stopped at Fourteenth Street, the traditional and permanent boundary line. There it may reach out and touch the great world, yet still remain part of the Village where it was born.
Here is one man's views of the Liberal Club. I am half afraid to quote them, they sound so heretical, but I wish to emphasise the fact that they are quoted. They might be the snapping of the fox at the sour grapes for all I know! Though this particular man seemed calm and dispassionate. "The Liberal Club Board," he said, " is a purely autocratic institution. It is collectively a trained poodle, though composed of nine members. The procedure is to make a few long speeches, praise the club, and re-elect the Board. Perfectly simple. But—did you say Liberal Club?" He used to sit on the Board himself, too!
A visiting Scotch socialist proclaimed it, with-out passion, a " hell of a place," and some of its most striking anarchistic leaders, " vera interestin' but terrible damn fools "! But he was, doubtless, an eccentric though an experienced and dyed-in-the-wool socialist who had lectured over half the globe. It is recorded of him that once when a certain young and energetic Village editor had been holding forth uninterruptedly and dramatically for an hour on the rights of the working-man, etc., etc., the visiting socialist, who had been watching his fervent gesticulations with absorbed attention, suddenly leaned forward and seized the lapel of his coat.
"Mon!" he exclaimed earnesly, " do ye play tennis?"
Just what is the Liberal Club?
You may have contradictory answers commensurate with the number of members you interrogate. One will tell you that it is a fake; one that it is the only vehicle of free speech ; Arthur Moss says it is " the most il-liberal club in the world "! Floyd Dell says it is paramountly a medium for entertainment, and that it is " not so much a clearing house of new ideas as of new people"!
The Liberal Club goes up, and the Liberal Club goes down. It has its good seasons and its bad, its fluctuations as to standards and favour, its share in the curious and inevitable tides that swing all associations back and forth like pendulums.
There is a real passion for dancing in the Village, and it is beautiful dancing that shows practice and a natural sense of rhythm. The music may be only from a victrola or a piano in need of tuning, but the spirit is, most surely, the vital spirit of the dance. At the Liberal Club everyone dances. After you have passed through the lounge room—the conventional outpost of the club, with desks and tables and chairs and prints and so on—you find yourself in a corridor with long seats, and windows opening on to Nora Van Leuwen's big, bare, picturesque Dutch Oven downstairs. On the other side of the corridor is the dance room—also the latest exhibition. Some of the pictures are very queer indeed. The last lot I saw were compositions in deadly tones of magenta and purple. The artist was a tall young man, the son of a famous illustrator. He strolled in quite tranquilly for a dance,—with those things of his in full view! All the courage is not on battlefields.
Said a girl, who, Village-like, would not perjure her soul to be polite:
" Why so much magenta? "
And said he quite sweetly:
"Why not? I can paint people green if I like, can't I?"
With which he glided imperturbably off in a fox trot with a girl in an " art sweater."
Harry Kemp says : " They make us sick with their scurrilous, ignorant stories of the Village. Pose? Sure!—it's two-thirds pose. But the rest is beautiful. And even the pose is beautiful in its way. Life is rotten and beautiful both at once. So is the Village. The Village is big in idea and it's growing. They talk of its being a dead letter. It's just beginning. First it the Village, as it is now—was really a sort of off-shoot of London and Paris. Now it's itself and I tell you it's beautiful, and more remarkable than people know.
" Uptowners, outsiders, come in here and insist on getting in; and, fed on the sort of false stuff that goes out through ` novelists' and ` reporters,' think that anything will go in the Liberal Club! They come here and insult the women members, and we all end up in a free fight every week or so. All the fault of the writers who got us wrong in the first place, and handed on the wrong impression to the world. . . ."
The studio quarters of the Village are located in various places—the South Side of Washington Square, the little lost courts and streets and corners everywhere, and—Macdougal Alley, Washington Mews, and the new, rather stately structures on Eighth Street, which are almost too grand for real artists and yet which have attracted more than a few nevertheless. I suppose that the Alley,—jutting off from the famous street named for Alexander Macdougal,—is the best known.
I remember that once, some years ago, I was hurrying, by a short cut, from Eighth Street to Waverly Place, and saw something which made me stop short in amazement. As unexpectedly as though it had suddenly sprung there, I beheld a little street running at right angles from me, parallel with Eighth, but ending, like a cul de sac, in houses like those with which it was edged. It was a quaint and foreign-looking little street and seemed entirely out of place in New York,—and especially out of place plunged like that into the middle of a block.
But that was not the oddest part of it. In that street stood talking a girl in gorgeous Spanish dress and a man in Moorish costume. The warm reds and greens and russets of their garments made an unbelievable patch of colour in the grey March day. And this in New York!
A friendly truck driver, feeding his horses, saw my bewilderment, and laughed.
" That's Macdougal's Alley," he volunteered. That meant nothing to me then.
" What is it? " I demanded, devoured by curiosity; " the stage door of a theatre,—or what? " He laughed again.
"It is just Macdougal's Alley!" he repeated, as though that explained everything.
So it did, when I came to find out about it.
The Alley and Washington Mews are probably the most famous artist quarters in the city, and some of our biggest painters and sculptors once had studios in one or the other,—those, that is, that haven't them still. Of course the picturesquely attired individuals I had caught sight of were models—taking the air, or snatching a moment for flirtation. Naturally they would not have appeared in costume in any other street in New York, but this, you see, was Macdougal Alley, and as my friend, the truck driver, seemed to think, that explains everything!
As for the Mews, they are fixing it up in great shape; and as for those Eighth-Street studios, they are too beautiful for words. You look out on Italian gardens, and you know that you are no-where near New York, with its prose and drudgery. If for a moment it seems all a bit too perfect for the haphazard, inspirational loveliness of the Village, you will surely have an arresting instinct which will tell you that it is just consummating a Village dream; it is just making what every Villager lives to make come true: perfect artistic beauty.
As we have seen, dancing is a real passion in the Village. So we can scarcely leave it without touching on the " Village dances " which have been so striking a feature of recent times and have proved so useful and so fruitful to the tired Sunday-supplement newspaperman. There are various sorts, from the regular pageants staged by the Liberal Club and the Kit Kat, to those of more modest pretensions given by individual Villagers or groups of Villagers.
The Quatres Arts balls of Paris doubtless formed the basis for these affairs; indeed, a description given me years ago by William Dodge, the artist, might almost serve as the story of one of these Village balls today. And Doris, who, I believe, appeared on one occasion as " Aphrodite,"—in appropriate " costume "—re-calls the celebrated model Sara Brown who electrified Paris by her impersonation of " Cleopatra" at a " Quatz 'Arts" gathering,—somewhat similarly arrayed,—or should we say decorated?
The costumes; many of them at least,—are largely—paint! This is not nearly as improper as it sounds. Splashes of clever red and subtle purple will quite creditably take the place of more cumberous and expensive dressing, or at least will pleasantly eke it out. Colour has long been recognised as a perfectly good substitute for cloth. Have you forgotten the small boy's abstract of the first history book—". . . The early Britons wore animals' skins in winter, and in summer they painted themselves blue." I am convinced that wode was the forerunner of the dress of the Village ball!
The Kit Kat, an artists' association, is remark-able for one curious custom. Its managing board is a profound mystery. No one knows who is responsible for the invitations sent out, so there can be no jealousy nor rancour if people don't get asked. If an invited guest chooses to bring a friend he may, but he is solely responsible for that friend and if his charge proves undesirable he will be held accountable and will thereafter be quietly dropped from the guest list of subsequent balls. And still he will never know who has done it! Hence, the Kit Kat is a most formidable institution, and invitations from its mysterious " Board " are hungrily longed for!
Every season there are other balls, too; among the last was the " Apes and Ivory" affair, a study in black and white, as may be gathered; then there was the " Rogue's Funeral " ball. This was to commemorate the demise of a certain little magazine called the Rogue, whose career was short and unsuccessful. They kept the funeral atmosphere so far as to hire a hearse for the transportation of some of the guests, but_____
" We put the first three letters of funeral in capitals," says one of the participants casually.
The proper thing, when festivities are over, is to go to breakfast,—at " Polly's," the Village Kitchen or the Dutch Oven, perhaps. Of course, nothing on earth hut the resiliency, the electric vitality of youth, could stand this sort of thing; but then, the Village is young; it is preeminently the land of youth, and the wine of life is still fresh and strong enough in its veins to come buoyantly. through what seems to an older consciousness a good bit more like an ordeal than an amusement!
And yet and yet—somehow I cannot think that these balls and pageants and breakfasts are truly typical of the real Village-I mean the newest and the best Village—the Village which, like the Fairy Host, sings to the sojourners of the grey world to come and join them in their dance, with " the wind sounding over the hill."
My Village is something fresher and gayer and more child-like than that. There is in it nothing of decadence.
But, as John Reed says______
". . . There's ancemia Ev'n in Bohemia, That there's not more of it-there is the miracle!"
For still the Village is, or has been, inarticulate. Individually it has found speech—it has expressed itself in diverse and successful forms. But there remains a void of voices! A community must strongly utter something, and must find mouths and mouthpieces for the purpose. It was hard to find, hard to locate, hard to vocalise, this message of the Village; eventually it came up from the depths and pitched its tone bravely and sweetly, so that men might hear and understand.
The need was for something concrete and yet varied, which could cry out alone, —a delicious voice in the wilderness, if you like! There have been play-acting companies, "The Washington Square Players," "The Provincetown Players," and others. But something was still wanting.
Sometimes it strikes us that wonderful things happen haphazard like meteors and miracles. But I believe if we could take the time to investigate, we would find that most of these miraculous and glorious oaks grow out of a quiet commonplace acorn.
Richard Wagner once held an idea—perhaps it would better be termed an ideal—concerning art expression. He declared (you may read it in " Oper and Drama" unless you are too war-sided) that all the art forms belonged together: that no one branch of the perfect art form could live apart from its fellows, that is, in its integral parts. He contended (and enforced in Bayreuth) that all the arts were akin : that the brains which created music, drama, colour effects, plastic sculptural effects—anything and everything that belonged to artistic expression—were, or should be, welded into one supreme artistic expression. He believed this implicitly, and like other persons who believe well enough, he " got away with it." In Bayreuth, he established for all time a form of synthetic art which has never been rivalled.
Now Wagner has very little apparently to do with Greenwich Village. And yet this big world notion is gaining way there. They are finding—as anyone must have known they would find--a new mood expression, a new voice. And, wise, not in their generation, but in all the generations, the Village has seized on this new vehicle with characteristic energy.
The new Greenwich Village Theatre which Mrs. Sam Lewis is godmothering, is—unless many sensible and farseeing persons are much mistaken—going to be the new Voice of the Village. It is going to express what the Villagers themselves are working for, day and night: beauty, truth, liberty, novelty, drama. It is going, in its theatrical form, to fill the need for something concrete and yet various, something involving all, yet evolved from all; something which shall somehow unite all the scattered rain-bow filaments of Our Village into a lovely texture with a design that even a Philistine world can understand.
" Young, new American playwrights first," says Mrs. Lewis. " After that as many great plays of all kinds as we can find. But we want to open the channel for expression. We want to give the Village a voice."
And when she says the Village she does not mean just the section technically known as Greenwich. She means—I take it—that greater neighbourhood of the world, which is fervently concerned in the new and thrilling and wonderful and untrammelled things of life. They have no place to sing, out in the everyday world, but in the Village they are going to be heard.
And I think the new Greenwich Village Theatre is going to be one of their most resonant mouthpieces!