Greenwich Village - Pages Of Romance
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In the resolute spirit of another Andor Andorra, the Village of Greenwich maintains its independence in the very midst of the city of New York—submitting to no more of a compromise in the matter of its autonomy than is evolved in the Procrustean sort of splicing which has hitched fast the extremities of its tangled streets to the most readily available streets in the City Plan. The flippant carelessness with which this apparent union has been effected only serves to emphasise the actual separation. In almost every case these ill-advised couplings are productive of anomalous disorder, which in the case of the numbered streets they openly travesty the requirements of communal propriety and of common-sense: as may be inferred from the fact that within this disjointed region Fourth Street crosses Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth streets very nearly at right angles—to the permanent bewilderment of nations and to the perennial confusion of mankind.-THOMAS JANVIER.
IT seems a far cry from the Greenwich of the last century to the Greenwich of this; from such quaint, garden-enclosed houses as the Warren homestead and Richmond Hill, from the alternately adventurous and tranquil lives of the great men who used to walk its crooked streets long and long ago, to the Studio quarter of today. What tie between the Grapevie, Vauxhall, Ranelagh, Brannan's, and all the ancient hostelries and mead houses and the modern French and Italian restaurants and little tea shops which are part and parcel of the present Village? So big did the gap appear to your servant, the author, so in-congruous the notion of uniting the old and the new Greenwich harmoniously that she was close to giving the problem up in despair and writing her story of Greenwich Village in two books in-stead of one. But—whether accidentally or by inspiration, who knows?-three sovereign bonds became accidentally plain to her. May they be as plain to you who read—bonds between the Green Village of an older day and the Bohemian Village of this our own day, points that the old and the new settlements have in common—more —points that show the soul and spirit of the Village to be one and the same, unchanged in the past, unchanged in the present, probably to be unchanged for all time. The first of these points I have already touched upon in an earlier chapter—the deathless element of romance that has always had its headquarters here. Every city, like every brain, should have a corner given over to dreams. Greenwich is the dream-corner of New York. Everyone feels it. I found an old article in the Tribune written by Vincent Pepe which shows how the romance of the neighbour-hood has crept into bricks and stone and even the uncompromising prose of real estate.
" Each one of these houses in the Village is from seventy-five to one hundred years old," writes Mr. Pepe (he might have said a hundred and fifty with equal accuracy in a few cases), " and each one of them has a history of its own, individually, as being one of the houses occupied by someone who has made American history and some of these houses have produced some of our present great men.
" New York has nothing of the old, with the exception of those old Colonial houses and for this reason we are trying to preserve them. . This is the great advantage and distinction of Washington Square and Greenwich Village and this is what has made it popular and it will be greater as the years go by. It will improve more and more with age, like an old wine.
" There is only one old section of New York and that is Greenwich Village and Washington Square, and the public are also going to preserve this little part of old New York."
Then there is that curious quality about Greenwich so endearing to those who know it, the quality of a haven, a refuge, a place of protected freedom.
" It's a good thing," said a certain brilliant young writer-man to me, " that there's one place where you can be yourself, live as you will and work out your scheme of life without a lot of criticism and convention to keep tripping you up. The point of view of the average mortal—out in the city—is that if you don't do exactly as everyone else does there's something the matter with you, morally or mentally. In the Village they leave you in peace, and take it for granted that you're decent until you've blatantly proven your-self the opposite. I'd have lost my nerve or my wits or my balance or something if I hadn't had the. Village to come and breathe in!"
Not so different from the reputation of Old Greenwich, is it?—a place where the rich would be healed, the weary rest and the sorrowful gain comfort. Not so different from the lure that drew Sir Peter out to the Green Village between his spectacular and hazardous voyages; that gave Thomas Paine his " seven serene months " before death came to him; that filled the grassy lanes with a mushroom business-life which had fled before the scourge of yellow fever; not so different from the refreshing ease of heart that came to Abigail Adams and Theodosia Alston when they came there from less comforting atmospheres. Greenwich, you see, maintains its old and honour-able repute—that of being a resort and shelter and refuge for those upon whom the world out-side would have pressed too heavily.
There is no one who has caught the inconsequent, yet perfectly sincere spirit of the Village better than John Reed. In reckless, scholarly rhyme he has imprisoned something of the reckless idealism of the Artists' Quarter—that haven for unconventional souls.
" Yet we are free who live in Washington Square, We dare to think as uptown wouldn't dare, Blazing our nights with arguments uproarious; What care we for a dull old world censorious, When each is sure he'll fashion something glorious?"
So we find that the romance of Colonial days still blooms freshly below Fourteenth Street and that people still rush to the Village to escape the world and its ways as eagerly as they fled a hundred years ago. But the third and last point of unity is perhaps the most striking. Always, we know, Greenwich has refused rebelliously to con-form to any rule of thumb. We know that when the Commissioners checker-boarded off the town they found they couldn't checker-board Greenwich. It was too independent and too set in its ways. It had its lanes and trails and cow-paths and nothing could induce it to become resigned to straight streets and measured avenues. It would not conform, and it never has conformed. And even more strenuously has its mental development defied the draughtsman's compass and triangle. Greenwich will not straighten its streets nor conventionalise its views. Its intellectual conclusions will always be just as unexpected as the squares and street angles that one stumbles on head first. Its habit of life will be just as weirdly individual as its tangled blocks. It asks nothing better than to be let alone. It does not welcome tourists, though it is hospitality itself to wayfarers seeking an open door. It is the Village, and it will never, never, no never be anything else—the Village of the streets that wouldn't be straight!
Janvier, who has already been quoted extensively, but who has written of Greenwich so well that his quotations can't be avoided, says: " In addition to being hopelessly at odds with the surrounding city, Greenwich is handsomely at variance with itself."
New York, and especially Greenwich, grew by curious and indirect means, as we have seen.
This fact and a lively and sympathetic consciousness of it, leads often to seemingly irrelevant digressions. Yet, is it not worth a moment's pause to find out that the stately site of Washington Square North, as well as other adjacent and select territory, was originally the property of two visionary seamen; and that the present erratic deflection of Broadway came from one obstinate Dutchman's affection for his own grounds and his uncompromising determination to use a gun to defend them, even against a city?
So, lest what follows appears to be a digression or an irrelevance, let me venture to remind you that the Village has always grown not only with picturesque results but by picturesque methods and through picturesque mediums. It is frankly, incurably romantic. Sir Peter Warren's estates, or part of them, were told off in parcels by the fine old custom of dice-throwing. Here is the official record of that episode, by the bye:
" In pursuance of the powers given in the said antenuptial deeds the trustees therein named, on March 31, 1787, agreed upon a partition of the said lands, which agreement was with the approbation and consent of the cestui que trusts, to wit: Earl and Lady Abingdon, and Charles Fitsroy and Ann his wife, the said Susannah Skinner the second not then having arrived at age. In making the partition, the premises were divided into three parts on a survey made thereof and marked A, B and C; and it was agreed that such partition should be made by each of the trustees naming a person to throw dice for and in behalf of their respective cestui que trusts, and that the person who should throw the highest number should have parcel A; the one who should throw the next highest number parcel B; and the one who should throw the lowest number, parcel C,—for the persons whom they respectively represented; and the premises were partitioned accordingly."
Eleventh Street was never cut through because old Burgher Brevoort did not want his trees cut down and argued conclusively with a blunder-buss to that effect —a final effect. It never has been cut through, as a matter of fact, to this day. And by way of evening things up, Grace Church, which stands almost on the disputed site, had for architect one James Renwick, who married the only daughter of Henry Brevoort himself. So by a queer twisted sort of law of compensation, ,the city gained rather than lost by what a certain disgruntled historian calls the " obstinacy of one Dutch householder."
These things are all true; the most amazing thing about Greenwich Village is that the most unlikely things that you can find out about it are true. The obvious, every-day things that are easily believed are much the most likely to be untenable reports or the day dreams of imaginative chroniclers. You are safe if you believe all the quaint and romantic and inconsistent and impossible things that come to your knowledge concerning the Village. That is its special and sacred privilege: to be unexpected and always —yes, always without exception—in the spirit of its irrational and sympathetic role. It needs Kipling's ambiguous " And when the thing that couldn't has occurred" for a
motto. And yet—and yet—like all true nonsense, this nonsense is rooted in a beautiful and disconcerting compromise of truth.
Cities do grow through their romances and their adventures. The commonplaces of life never opened up new worlds nor established them after; the prose of life never served as a song of progress. Never a great onward movement but was called impossible. The things that the sane-andsafe gentleman accepts as good sense are not the things that make for growth, anywhere. And the principle, applied to lesser things, holds good.
Who wants to study a city's life through the registries of its civic diseases or cures? We want its romances, its exceptions, its absurdities, its adventures. We not only want them, we must have them. Despite all the wiseacres on earth we care more for the duel that Burr and Hamilton fought than for all their individual achievements, good or bad. It is the theatrical change from the Potter's Field to the centre of fashion that first catches our fancy in the tale of Washington Square. In fact, my friend, we are, first and last, children addicted to the mad yet harmless passion of story-telling and story-hearing. I do hope that, when you read these pages, you will remember that, and be not too stern in criticism of sundry vastly important historic points which are all forgot and left out of the scheme—asking your pardon!
The Village, old or new, is the home of romance (as we have said, it is to be feared at least once or twice too often ere this) and it is for us to follow those sweet and crazy trails where they may chance to lead.
Since, then, we are concerned chiefly with the spirit of adventure, we can hardly fail to note that this particular element has haunted the neighbourhood of Washington Square fairly consistently.
If you will look at the Ratzer map you will see that the Elliott estate adjoined the Brevoort lands. It is today one of the most variously important regions in town, embracing as it does both Broadway and Fifth Avenue and including a most lively business section and a most exclusive aristocratic quarter. Andrew Elliott was the son of Sir Gilbert Elliott, Lord Chief Justice, Clerk of Scotland. Andrew was Receiver General of the Province of New York under the Crown and a most loyal Royalist to the last. When the British rule passed he, in common with many other English sympathisers, found himself in an embarrassing position. The De Lanceys—close friends of his—lost their lands outright. But Elliott, like the canny Scotchman that he was, was determined that he would not be served the same way.
To quote Mr. J. H. Henry, who now handles that huge property: " He must have had friends! Apparently they liked him, if they didn't like his politics."
This is how they managed it: He transferred his entire estate to a Quaker friend of his in Philadelphia—this was before the situation had become too critical; then a little group of friendly New Yorkers, among whom was Alexander Hamilton, bought it in; next it passed into the hands of one Friedrich Charles Hans Bruno, Baron Poelnitz, who appears to have been not much more than a figurehead. However, it was legally his property at the time of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, and so it was not confiscated. It probably is safe to assume that Mr. Andrew Elliott still remained the power behind the throne, and benefited by the subsequent sale of the land to Capt. Robert Richard Randall.
Which brings us to a most picturesque page of New York history.
I wonder what there is about privateering that attracts even the most law-abiding imagination. This ancient, more than half dishonourable, profession has an unholy glamour about it and there are few respectable callings that so appeal to the colour-loving fancy. Not that privateering was quite the same as piracy, but it came so close a second that the honest rogues who plied the two trades must often have been in danger of getting their perquisites and obligations somewhat merged. It would have taken a very sharp judicial mind, or a singularly stout personal conscience, to make the distinctions between them in sundry and fairly numerous cases.
" In these troublous and not over-squeamish times, when commerce was other than the peaceful pursuit it has since become, a promising venture in privateering was often preferred to slower if safer sources of profit by the strong-stomached merchants and mariners of New York.
News that piracy under the guise of privateering was winked at by the New York authorities spread quickly among the captains serving under the black flag."
Now there never was a lustier freebooter of the high seas than Capt. Thomas Randall, known familiarly as " Cap'n Tom," commander of the privateering ship Fox, and numerous other vessels. This boat, a brigantine, was well named, for she was quick and sly and yet could fight on occasion. Many a rich haul he made in her in 1748, and many a hairbreadth escape shaved the impudent bow of her on those jolly, nefarious voyages of hers. One of her biggest captures was the French ship L'Amazone. In 1757 he took out the De Lancey, a brigatine, with fourteen guns, and made some more sensational captures. He is said to have plied a coastwise trade for the most part from New York to New Orleans, but, to quote Mr. Henry once more, " The Captain went wherever the Spanish flag covered the largest amount of gold." At all events he amassed a prodigious fortune even for a privateer. In 1758 he withdrew from active service himself, but still sent out privateering vessels. Some of them he lost. The De Lancey was captured, and so was the Saucy Sally—the latter by the British ship Experiment. The De Lancey however made some excellent hauls first. Peter Johnson, a seaman, made a will in 1757, leaving to a friend all debts, dues and " prize money which may become payable by the cruise of the De Lancey, Captain Randall commanding." The luckless De Lancey was taken by the Dutch off Curacoa and the crew imprisoned. Perhaps poor Johnson was one of them.
In spite of occasional ill-luck these were good days for the Captain, because the law, never over scrupulous, allowed him especial license, the country being at war. Never was there a better era for adventurers, never a time when fortunes were to be sought under more favourable stars!
A third quotation from Mr. Henry:
" In those days a man was looked upon as being highly unfortunate if he had not a vessel which he could put to profitable use!"
He was part owner of the Snow with sixteen guns, full owner of the Mary and also of the Lively. He had a bad time in connection with the latter. He sent her out with Thomas Quigley for captain. Quigley took the little schooner down the Jersey coast and stayed there. He never put out to sea at all. He rode comfortably at anchor near shore and when he ran out of rum put in and got more. After a while the mates and crew sent in a round robin to Captain Randall telling him the story. The Lively was swiftly called in and—what Captain Tom did to Quigley history does not-state!
The jolly piratical seaman did finely and flourished, green-bay like, in the sight of men. He was not without honours either. When Washing-ton was rowed from Elizabethtown Point to the first inauguration, his barge was manned by a crew of thirteen ships' captains, and he who had the signal distinction of being coxswain of that historic boat's company, was Cap'n Torn!
Indeed there seems to be abundant proof that the Captain engineered the whole proceeding. It is certain that it was he who presented the " Presidential barge " to Washington for his use during his stay in New York, and he who selected that unusual crew,—practically every noted ship-master then in port. On the President's final departure for Mount Vernon, he again used the barge, putting out from the foot of Whitehall and when he reached Elizabethtown, he very courteously returned it as a gift to Captain Randall, and wrote him a letter of warm thanks.
It is believed that Captain Thomas came from Scotland some time in the early part of the eighteenth century, but we know nothing of his antecedents and not much of his private life. He married in America, but we do not know the name of his wife. We do know that in 1775 his son, Robert Richard, was a youth of nineteen and a student at Columbia. This was the same year that the old Captain was serving on important committees and playing a conspicuous part in public affairs. Oh, yes! he was a most eminent citizen, and no one thought a whit the worse of him for what he called his " honest privateering." He was a member of the Legislature in 1784 and voted in favour of bringing in tea free—when it was carried by American ships!
And I picture Cap'n Tom as a stout and hearty rogue, with an open hand and heart and a certain cheery fashion of plying his shady calling, rather endearing than otherwise (I have no notion of his real looks nor qualities, but one's imagination must have its fling on occasion!). After all, there is not such a vast difference between the manner of Sir Peter Warren's gains and Cap'n Tom Randall's. You may call a thing by one name or by another, but, when it comes down to it, is the business of capturing enemy prize ships in order to grow rich on the proceeds so different from holding up merchantmen for the same reason? But we are concerned for the moment with the Randalls, father and son, and most excellent fellows they appear to have both been. I should like to believe that Cap'n Tom owned a cutlass, but I fear it was a bit late for that!
Captain Tom appears to have been generous and kindly,—like most persons of questionable and picturesque careers. The Silversmith who left his entire belongings to the Captain in 1796 is but one of many who had reason to love him. One historian declares that he settled down, after retiring from the sea, and " became a respectable merchant at 10 Hanover Street," where he piled up more and more gold to leave his son Robert Richard. But it is a matter of record that the address at which he died was 8 White-hall. On Friday, October 27, 1797, he set forth on his last cruise,—after seventy-four adventurous years on earthly seas.
He died much respected,—by no one more than his son, Robert Richard Randall, who had an immense admiration and reverence, for his memory. It was he who, in 1790, bought the Elliott estate from " Baron " Poelnitz, for the sum of five thousand pounds—a handsome property of some twenty-four acres covering the space between Fourth and Fifth avenues, Waverly Place and approximately Ninth Street. The Elliott house which has been described as being of " red brick with white " was clearly a rather pretentious affair, and stood, says Mrs. Lamb, so that Broadway when it was laid down " clipped the rear porch."
It is a curious fact and worthy of note that the old, original house stood undamaged until 1828, and that, being sold at auction and removed at that date, its materials were used in a house which a few years ago was still in good condition.
Robert Richard Randall was also, like his father, known as " Captain," though there is no record of his ever having gone to sea as a sailor. Indeed he would scarcely have been made an " honourary " member of the Marine Society had he been a real shipmaster. Courtesy titles were de rigueur in those days, when a man was popular, and he appears to have been thoroughly so.
When it came time for him, too, to die, he paid his father's calling what tribute he could by the terms of his will.
His lawyer—no less a person that Alexander Hamilton himself—called to discuss the terms of this last document. By the bye, Hamilton's part in the affair is traditional and legendary rather than a matter of official record;—certainly his name does not appear in connection with the will. But Hamilton was the lawyer of Randall's sister, and a close family friend, so the story may more easily be true than false.
This, then, is the way it goes: Alexander Hamilton was summoned to make out the last will and testament, or at least, to advise concerning it. Randall was already growing weak, but had a clear and determined notion of what he wanted to do with his money. This was on June 1, 180i. The dying man left a number of small bequests to friends, families and servants, before he came to the real business on his mind. His bequests, besides money, included, " unto Betsey Hart, my housekeeper, my gold sleeve buttons," and unto Adam Shields, my faithful overseer, my gold watch," and " unto Gawn Irwin, who now lives with me, my shoe-buckles and knee-buckles." Adam Shields married Betsey Hart. They were both Scotch—probably from whatever part of Scotland the Randalls hailed in the first place.
When these matters were disposed of, he began to speak of what was nearest his heart. He had a good deal of money; he wanted to leave it to some lasting use. Hamilton asked how he had made his money, and Randall explained he had inherited it from his father.
" And how did he get it?" asked the great lawyer.
" By honest privateeringl " declared Captain Tom's son proudly.
And then, or so the story goes, he went on to whisper:
" My father's fortune all came from the sea. He was a seaman, and a good one. He had money, so he never suffered when he was worn out, but all are not like that. I want to make a place for the others. I want it to be a snug harbour for tired sailors."
So the will, July 10, 1801, reads that Robert Richard Randall's property is left to found: " An Asylum or Marine Hospital, to be called ` The Sailors' Snug Harbour,' for the purpose of maintaining aged, decrepit, worn-out sailors."
One of the witnesses, by the bye, was Henry Brevoort.
The present bust of Randall which stands in the Asylum is, of course, quite apocryphal as to likeness. No one knows what he looked like, but out of such odds and ends of in-formation as the knee-buckles and so on, mentioned in the will, the artistic imagination of St. Gaudens evolved a veritable beau of a mariner, with knee-buckles positively resplendent and an Admiral's wig. And, though it may not be a good likeness, it is an agreeable enough ideal, and I think everyone approves of it.
Robert Richard Randall is buried down there now and on his monument is a simple and rather impressive inscription commemorating this charity which—so it puts it—was " conceived in a spirit of enlarged Benevolence."
Shortly afterwards he died, but his will, in spite of the inevitable wrangling and litigation of disgusted relations, lived on, and the Snug Harbour for Tired Sailors is an accomplished fact. Randall had meant it to be built on his property there—a good " seeded-to-grass " farm lands and thought that the grain and vegetables for the sailor inmates of this Snug Harbour on land could be grown on the premises. But the trustees decided to build the institution on Staten Island. The New York Washington Square property, however, is still called the Sailors' Snug Harbour Estate, and through its tremendous in-crease in value the actual asylum was benefited incalculably. At the time of Captain Randall's death, the New York estate brought in about $4,000 a year. Today it is about $400,000,—and every cent goes to that real Snug Harbour for Tired Sailors out near the blue waters of Staten Island. So the " honest privateering " fortune has made at least one impossible seeming dream come true.
As time went on this section—the Sailors' Snug Harbour Estate and the Brevoort property —was destined to become New York's most fashionable quarter. Its history is the history of American society, no less, and one can have no difficulty in visualising an era in which a certain naive ceremony combined in piquant fashion with the sturdy solidity of the young and vigorous country. In the correspondence of Henry Brevoort and Washington Irving and others one gets delightful little pictures—vignettes, as it were—of social life of that day. Mr. Emmet writes begging for some snuff " no matter how old. It may be stale and flat but cannot be unprofitable! " Brevoort asks a friend to dine " On Thursday next at half-past four o'clock." He paints us a quaint sketch of " a little, round old gentleman, returning heel taps into decanters," at a soiree, adding: " His heart smote him at beholding the waste & riot of his dear adopted." 'We read of tea drinkings and coaches and his father's famous blunderbuss or " long gun" which he is presenting to Irving. And there are other chroniclers of the times. Lossing, the historian, quotes an anonymous friend as follows:
" We thought there was a goodly display of wealth and diamonds in those days, but, God bless my soul, when I hear of the millions amassed by the Vanderbilts, Goulds, Millses, Villards and others of that sort, I realise what a poor little doughnut of a place New York was at that early period! "
He goes on to speak of dinner at three—a formal dinner party at four. The first private carriage was almost mobbed on Broadway. Mrs. Jacob Little had " a very showy carriage lined with rose colour and a darky coachman in blue livery."
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Brevoort's house stood on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street it is now occupied by the Charles de Rhams. And it chanced to be the scene of a certain very pretty little romance which can scarcely be passed over here.
New York, as a matter of course, copied her fashionable standards from older lands. While Manhattan society was by no means a supine and merely imitative affair, the country was too new not to cling a bit to English and French formalities. The great ladies of the day made something of a point of their " imported amusements " as having a specific claim on fashionable favour. So it came about that the fascinating innovation of the masked ball struck the fancy of fashionable New York. There was some-thing very daring about the notion; it smacked of Latin skies and manners and suggested possibilities of romance both licensed and not which charmed the ladies, even as it abashed them. There were those who found it a project scarcely in good taste; it is said indeed that there was no end of a flutter concerning it. But be that as it may, the masked ball was given,—the first that New York had ever known, and, it may be mentioned, the very last it was to know for many a long, discreet year!
Haswell says that in this year there was a " fancy " ball given by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Brevoort and that the date was February 24th. It certainly was the same one, but he adds that it was generally pronounced "most successful." This one may doubt, since the results made masked balls so severely thought of that there was, a bit later, a fine of $1,000 imposed on anyone who should give one,—one-half to be deducted if you told on yourself !
Nevertheless, George S. Hellman says that Mrs. Brevoort's ball, February 24, 1840,--was " the most splendid social affair of the first half of the nineteenth century in New York."
There was great preparation for it, and practically all " society" was asked—and nothing and nobody else. It was incidentally the occasion of the first " society reporting." Attree, of the New York Herald, was an invited guest and went in costume—quite an innovation for conservative old Manhattan.
Lossing tells us: " At the close of this decade the features of New York society presented conspicuous transformations. Many exotic customs prevailed, both public and private, and the ex-pensive pleasures of the Eastern Hemisphere had been transplanted and taken firm root. Among other imported amusements was the masked ball, the first of which occurred in the city of New York in 1840, and produced a profound sensation, not only per se, but because of an attending circumstance which stirred ` society' to its foundation."
The British Consul in New York at that time was Anthony Barclay,—he lived at College Place,—who was destined later to fall into evil repute, by raising recruits here during the Crimean trouble. He had a daughter, Matilda, who was remarkably lovely and—if we may believe reports--a very great belle in American society. She had a number of " suitors," as they were gracefully called in those days, and among them was one Burgwyne, from South Carolina—very young, and, we may take it, rather poor.
Lossing says: " There was also in attendance a gay, young South Carolinian named Burgwyne."
The Consul and Mrs. Barclay disapproved of him strongly. But Matilda who was beautiful, warm-blooded and wayward did not. She loved Burgwyne with a reciprocal ardour, and when the masked ball at the Brevoorts' came on the tapis it seemed as though the Goddess of Romance had absolutely stretched out her hands to these two reckless, but adorable lovers.
They had a favourite poem—most lovers have favourite poems ;—theirs was " Lalla Rookh."
There may be diverse opinions as to Thomas Moore's greatness, but there can scarcely be two as to his lyric gift. He could write charming love-songs, simple and yet full of colour, and, given the Oriental theme, it is no wonder that youths and maidens of his day sighed and smiled over " Lalla Rookh " as over nothing that had yet been written for them. It is a delightful tale, half-prose and half-poetry, written entirely and whole-heartedly for lovers, and Burgwyne and Matilda found it easy to put themselves in the places of the romantic characters in the drama Lalla Rookh, the incomparably beautiful Eastern Princess and Feramorz, the young Prince in disguise, " graceful as that idol of women, Crishna."
They secretly agreed to go to the masked ball at the Brevoorts' as their romantic favourites and prototypes. The detailed descriptions in the book gave them sufficient inspiration. She wore floating gauzes, bracelets, " a small coronet of jewels " and " a rose-coloured, bridal veil." His dress was " simple, yet not without marks of costliness," with a " high Tartarian cap. . . Here and there, too, over his vest, which was confined by a flowered girdle of Kaskan, hung strings of fine pearls, disposed with an air of studied negligence."
So they met at the ball and danced together, and I suppose he quoted :
"Fly to the desert, fly with me,
Obviously she chose the tents with love, for as the clock struck four they slipped away together and were married!
As Lossing puts it:
" They left the festive scene together at four o'clock in the morning, and were married before breakfast."
They did not change their costumes, dear things! They wanted the romantic trappings for their love poem—a love poem which was to them more enchanting—more miraculous—than that of Lalla Rookh and the King of Bucharia. I hope they lived happily ever after, like the brave, young romanticists they were!
In 1835 a hotel was opened on the corner of Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue, and it was appropriately named for the illustrious family over the way. The Brevoort House is certainly as historic a pile, socially speaking, as lower New York has to offer. Arthur Bartlett Maurice says of it:
" In the old-time novels of New York life visiting Englishmen invariably stopped at the Brevoort."
Of this hotel more anon, since it has recently become knit into the fabric of the modern Village.
But a scant two blocks away from the Brevoort stands another hostelry which is indissolubly a part of New York's growth—especially the growth of her Artist's Colony. It is the Lafayette, or as many of its habitues still love to call it—" The Old Martin." This, the first and most famous French restaurant of New York, needs a special word or two. It must be considered alone, and not in the company of lesser and more mod-ern eating places.
John Reed pays that the " Old Martin " was the real link between the old Village and the new, since it was the cradle of artistic life in New York. Bohemians, he declared, first fore-gathered there as Bohemians, and the beginnings of what has become America's Latin Quarter and Soho there first saw the light of day—or rather the lights of midnight.
Jean Baptiste Martin who had been running a hotel in Panama during the first excavations there—made by the French, as you may or may not remember—came to New York in 1883. He had been here the year' before for a time and had decided the city needed a French hotel. He arrived on the 25th of June, and on the 26th he bought the hotel! He chose a house on University Place—No. 17—a little pension kept by one Eugene Larru, and from time to time bought the adjoining houses and built extensions until he had made it the building we see today. He called it the Hotel de Panama.
But it was not as the Hotel de Panama that it won its unique place in the hearts of New Yorkers. " In 1886," Mr. Martin says, " I decided to change the name of my place. ` Panama' gave people a bad impression. They associated it with fever and Spaniards, and neither were popular! So it became the Hotel Martin. Then, when I started another restaurant at Twenty-sixth Street, the ` Old Martin' became the Lafayette."
The artists and writers came to the Hotel Martin to invite their respective Muses inspired by Mr. Martin's excellent food and drink. From the bachelors' quarters on the nearby square—the Benedick and other studio houses—shabby, ambitious young men came in droves. Mr. Martin remembers " Bob " Chambers, and some young newspaper men from the World—Goddard, Man-son and others. From uptown the great foreigners came down—some of them stayed there, indeed. In 1889, approximately, it started its biggest boom, and it went on steadily. Ask either Mr. Martin or its present proprietor, Mr. Raymond Orteig, and he will tell you, and truthfully, that it has never flagged, that " boom." The place is as popular as ever, because, in a changing world, a changing era and a signally changing town, it—does not change.
It was to the Hotel Martin that the famous singers came—Jean and Edouard de Reszke and Pol Plancon and Melba; the French statesman, Jules Cambon, used to come, and Maurice Grau—then the manager of the Metropolitan—and Chartran, the celebrated painter, and the great Ysaye and Bartholdi. And Paulus—Koster and Bial's first French importation—to say nothing of Anna Held and Sandow!
A motley company enough, to be sure, and certainly one worthy to form the nucleus of New York's Bohemia.
Says Mr. Martin : " The most interesting thing that ever happened in the ` Old Martin'? I can tell you that quite easily. It was the blizzard of 1888, when we were snowed in. The horse cars ran on University Place then, the line terminating at Barclay Street. I have a picture of one car almost snowed under, for the snow was fully six feet deep. It was a Saturday night and very crowded. When it became time for the people to go home they could not go. So they had to stay, and they stayed three days. They slept on billiard tables, on the floor or where they could. We did our best, but it was a big crowd. Interesting? It was most interesting indeed to me, for I could get no milk. I could supply them with all the wine they wanted, but no milk! And they demanded milk for their coffee. Oh, that blizzard!"
Mr. Martin, in remembering interesting episodes, forgot that trifling incident the Spanish-American War, in 1898. Whether because of his early connections with Panama (there were countless Spaniards and Mexicans who patronised the hotel at that time) or whether because of a national and political misunderstanding, he was justifiably and seriously concerned as to the feeling of New York for the Hotel Martin. Many good and wise persons expected France to side with Spain, and many others watched curiously to see what Frenchmen in New York would do.
Mr. Martin left them but a short time for speculation. Today, with our streets aflutter with Allied colours, perhaps we fail to appreciate an individual demonstration such as this—but at that time there were few banners flying, and Mr. Martin led the patriotic movement with an American flag in every one of the fifty windows of the Hotel Martin and a French flag to top off the whole display! Perhaps it was the first suggestion, in street decoration, of what has recently proved to be so strong a bond between this nation and France.
If any of you who read have even begun to peer into Bohemian New York you have undoubtedly visited the Lafayette as it is today. And, if you have, you have undoubtedly seen or perhaps even played the " Lafayette Game." It is a weird little game that is played for drinks, and requires quite a bit of skill. It is well known to all frequenters; the only odd thing is that it is not better known.
"Americans are funny!" laughs Raymond Orteig. "When I go abroad and see something which is new and different from what has been before, my instinct is to get hold of it and bring it back. If I can I bring it back in actual bulk; if I were a writer I would bring it back in another way. But through these years, while everyone has played our absurd little game, no one has ever suggested writing about it—until tonight!"
Its name? It is Culbuto. That is French,—practically applied,—for failure! It is, you see, an effort to keep the little balls from falling into the wrong holes. As it so often results in failure Culbuto is an ideal game to play for drinks! Someone has to pay all the time! It is an unequal contest between the individual and the law of gravity!
But we must not linger too long at the Lafayette, alluring though it may be. All Greenwich is beckoning to us, a few blocks away. We have a new world to explore—the world below Fourteenth Street.
Fourteenth Street is the boundary line which marks the Greenwich Village's utmost city limits, as it marked those of our great-grandfathers. Like a wall it stands across the town separating the new from the old uncompromisingly. Miss Euphemia Olcott, who has been quoted here before, describes the evolution of Fourteenth Street in the following interesting way:
" Fourteenth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues I have seen with three sets of buildings —first shanties near Sixth Avenue from the rear of which it was rumoured a bogy would be likely to pursue and kidnap us. . These shanties were followed by fine, brownstone residences. . . . Some of these, however, I think came when there had ceased to be a village. Later on came business into Fourteenth Street. . . ."
And today those never-to-be-sufficiently-pitied folk who live in the Fifties and Sixties and Seven-ties think of Fourteenth Street as downtown!