THE ABOMINATIONS OF MODERN SOCIETY.
BY REV. T. DE WITT TALMAGE,
AUTHOR OF "CRUMBS SWEPT UP"
This is a buoy swung over the rocks. If it shall keep ship, bark, fore-and-aft schooner, or hermaphrodite brig from driving on a lee shore, "all's well."
The book is not more for young men than old. The Calabria was wrecked "the last day out."
Nor is the book more for men than women. The best being that God ever made is a good woman, and the worst that the devil ever made is a bad one. If anything herein shall be a warning either to man or woman, I will be glad that the manuscript was caught up between the sharp teeth of the type.
BROOKLYN, January 1st, 1872.
The Curtain Lifted
The Power of Clothes
The Indiscriminate Dance
The Massacre by Needle and Sewing-Machine
Pictures in the Stock Gallery
The Fatal Ten-Strike
Some of the Club-Houses
Flask, Bottle, and Demijohn
House of Blackness of Darkness
The Gun that Kicks over the Man who Shoots it off
Lies: White and Black
The Good Time Coming
* * * * *
THE CURTAIN LIFTED.
Pride of city is natural to men, in all times, if they live or have lived in a metropolis noted for dignity or prowess. Caesar boasted of his native Rome; Lycurgus of Sparta; Virgil of Andes; Demosthenes of Athens; Archimedes of Syracuse; and Paul of Tarsus. I should suspect a man of base-heartedness who carried about with him no feeling of complacency in regard to the place of his residence; who gloried not in its arts, or arms, or behavior; who looked with no exultation upon its evidences of prosperity, its artistic embellishments, and its scientific attainments.
I have noticed that men never like a place where they have not behaved well. Swarthout did not like New York; nor Dr. Webster, Boston. Men who have free rides in prison-vans never like the city that furnishes the vehicle.
When I see in history Argos, Rhodes, Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, and several other cities claiming Homer, I conclude that Homer behaved well.
Let us not war against this pride of city, nor expect to build up ourselves by pulling others down. Let Boston have its Common, its Faneuil Hall, its Coliseum, and its Atlantic Monthly. Let Philadelphia talk about its Mint, and Independence Hall, and Girard College. When I find a man living in either of those places, who has nothing to say in favor of them, I feel like asking him, "What mean thing did you do, that you do not like your native city?"
New York is a goodly city. It is one city on both sides of the river. The East River is only the main artery of its great throbbing life. After a while four or five bridges will span the water, and we shall be still more emphatically one than now. When, therefore, I say "New York city," I mean more than a million of people, including everything between Spuyten Duyvil Creek and Gowanus. That which tends to elevate a part, elevates all. That which blasts part, blasts all. Sin is a giant; and he comes to the Hudson or Connecticut River, and passes it, as easily as we step across a figure in the carpet. The blessing of God is an angel; and when it stretches out its two wings, one of them hovers over that, and the other over this.
In infancy, the great metropolis was laid down by the banks of the Hudson. Its infancy was as feeble as that of Moses, sleeping in the bulrushes by the Nile; and like Miriam, there our fathers stood and watched it. The royal spirit of American commerce came down to the water to bathe; and there she found it. She took it in her arms, and the child grew and waxed strong; and the ships of foreign lands brought gold and spices to its feet; and, stretching itself up into the proportions of a metropolis, it has looked up to the mountains, and off upon the sea,—one of the mightiest of the energies of American civilization.
The character of the founder of a city will be seen for many years in its inhabitants. Romulus impressed his life upon Rome. The Pilgrims relax not their hold upon the cities of New England. William Penn has left Philadelphia an inheritance of integrity and fair dealing; and on any day in that city you may see in the manners, customs, and principles of its people, his tastes, his coat, his hat, his wife's bonnet, and his plain meeting-house. The Hollanders still wield an influence over New York.
Grand Old New York! What southern thoroughfare was ever smitten by pestilence, when our physicians did not throw themselves upon the sacrifice! What distant land has cried out in the agony of famine, and our ships have not put out with bread-stuffs! What street of Damascus, or Beyrout, or Madras that has not heard the step of our missionaries! What struggle for national life, in which our citizens have not poured their blood into the trenches! What gallery of exquisite art, in which our painters have not hung their pictures! What department of literature or science to which our scholars have not contributed! I need not speak of our public schools, where the children of the cordwainer, and milkman, and glass-blower stand by the side of the flattered sons of millionnaires and merchant princes; or of the insane asylums on all these islands, where they who came out cutting themselves, among the tombs, now sit, clothed and in their right mind; or of the Magdalen asylums, where the lost one of the street comes to bathe the Saviour's feet with her tears, and wipe them with the hairs of her head,—confiding in the pardon of Him who said—"Let him who is without sin cast the first stone at her." I need not speak of the institutions for the blind, the lame, the deaf and the dumb, for the incurables, for the widow, the orphan, and the outcast; or of the thousand-armed machinery that sends streaming down from the reservoir the clear, bright, sparkling, God-given water that rushes through our aqueducts, and dashes out of the hydrants, and tosses up in our fountains, and hisses in our steam-engines, and showers out the conflagration, and sprinkles from the baptismal font of our churches; and with silver note, and golden sparkle, and crystalline chime, says to hundreds of thousands of our population, in the authentic words of Him who made it—"I WILL: BE THOU CLEAN!"
They who live in any of the American cities have a goodly heritage; and it is in no depreciation of our advantages that I speak, but because, in the very contrast with our opportunities and mission, THE ABOMINATIONS are tenfold more abominable.
The sources from which I will bring the array of facts will be police, detective, and alms-house reports; city missionaries' explorations, and the testimony of the abandoned and sin-blasted, who, about to take the final plunge, have staggered back just for a moment, to utter the wild shriek of their warning, and the agonizing wail of their despair.
I shall call upon you to consider the drunkenness, the stock-gambling, the rampant dishonesties, the club-houses so far as they are nefarious, the excess of fashion, the horrors of unchastity, the bad books and unclean newspapers, and the whole range of sinful amusements; and with the plough-share of truth turn up the whole field.
If we could call up the victims themselves, they would give the most impressive story. People knew not how Turner, the painter, got such vivid conceptions of a storm at sea, until they heard the story that oftentimes he had been lashed to the deck in the midst of the tempest, in order that he might study the wrath of the sea.
Those who have themselves been tossed on the wave of infamous transgressions could give us the most vivid picture of what it is to sin and to die. With hand tremulous with exhausting disease, and hardly able to get the accursed bowl to his lips—put into such a hand the pencil, and it can sketch, as can no one else, the darkness, the fire, the wild terror, the headlong pitch, and the hell of those who have surrendered themselves to iniquity. While we dare only come near the edge, and, balancing ourselves a while, look off, and our head swims, and our breath catches,—those can tell the story best who have fallen to the depths with wilder dash than glacier from the top of a Swiss cliff, and stand, in their agony, looking up for a relief that comes not, and straining their eyes for a hope that never dawns—crying, "O God!" "O God!"
It is terrible to see a lion dashing for escape against the sides of his cage; but a more awful thing it is to behold a man, caged in bad habit, trying to break out,—blood on the soul, blood on the cage.
Others may throw garlands upon Sin, picturing the overhanging fruits which drop in her pathway, and make every step graceful as the dance; but we cannot be honest without presenting it as a giant, black with the soot of the forges where eternal chains are made, and feet rotting with disease, and breath foul with plagues, and eyes glaring with woe, and locks flowing in serpent fangs, and voice from which shall rumble forth the blasphemies of the damned.
I open to you a door, through which you see—what? Pictures and fountains, and mirrors and flowers? No: it is a lazar-house of disease. The walls drip, drip, drip with the damps of sepulchres. The victims, strewn over the floor, writhe and twist among each other in contortions indescribable, holding up their ulcerous wounds, tearing their matted hair, weeping tears of blood: some hooting with revengeful cry; some howling with a maniac's fear; some chattering with idiot's stare; some calling upon God; some calling upon fiends; wasting away; thrusting each other back; mocking each other's pains; tearing open each other's ulcers; dropping with the ichor of death! The wider I open the door, the ghastlier the scene.—Worse the horrors. More desperate recoils. Deeper curses. More blood. I can no longer endure the vision, and I shut the door, and cover my eyes, and turn my back, and cry, "God pity them!"
Some one may say, "What is the use of such an exposure as you propose to make? Our families are all respectable." I answer, that no family, however elevated and exclusive, can be independent of the state of public morals.
However pleasant the block of houses in which you dwell, the wretchedness, the temptation, and the outrage of municipal crime will put its hand on your door-knob, and dash its awful surge against the marble of your door-steps, as the stormy sea drives on a rocky beach.
That condition of morals is now being formed, amid which our children must walk. Do you tell me it is none of my business what street profanity shall curse my boy's ear, on his way to school? Think you it is no concern of yours what infamous advertisements, placarded on the walls, or in the public newspaper, shall smite the vision of your innocent little ones? Shall I be nervous about a stagnant pool of water, lest it breed malaria, and be careless when there are in the very heart of our city thousands of houses, devoted to various forms of dissipation, which day and night steam with miasma, and pour out the fiery lava of pollution, and darken the air with their horrors, and fill the skies with the smoke of their torment, that ascendeth up forever and ever? If a slaughter-house be opened in the midst of the town, we hasten down to the Mayor to have the nuisance abated. But now I make complaint, not to the Mayor or Common Council, but to the masses of the people, who have the power to lift men up to office, and to cast them down, against a hundred thousand slaughter-houses in our American cities. In the name of our happy homes, of our refined circles, of our schools, of our churches,—in the name of all that is dear and beautiful and valuable and holy,—I enter the complaint. If you now sit unconcerned, and leave to professed philanthropists the work, and care not who are in authority or what laws remain unexecuted, you may live to see the time when you will curse the day in which your children were born.
My belief is that such an exposition of public immoralities will do good, by exciting pity for the victims and wholesale indignation against the abettors and perpetrators.
Who is that man fallen against the curbstone, covered with bruises and beastliness? He was as bright-faced a lad as ever looked up from your nursery. His mother rocked him, prayed for him, fondled him, would not let the night air touch his cheek, and held him up and looked down into his loving eyes, and wondered for what high position he was being fitted. He entered life with bright hopes. The world beckoned him, friends cheered him, but the archers shot at him; vile men set traps for him, bad habits hooked fast to him with their iron grapples; his feet slipped on the way; and there he lies. Who would think that that uncombed hair was once toyed with by a father's fingers? Who would think that those bloated cheeks were ever kissed by a mother's lips? Would you guess that that thick tongue once made a household glad with its innocent prattle? Utter no harsh words in his ear. Help him up. Put the hat over that once manly brow. Brush the dust from that coat that once covered a generous heart. Show him the way to the home that once rejoiced at the sound of his footstep, and with gentle words tell his children to stand back as you help him through the hall.
That was a kind husband once and an indulgent father. He will kneel with them no more as once he did at family prayers—the little ones with clasped hands looking up into the heavens with thanksgiving for their happy home. But now at midnight he will drive them from their pillows and curse them down the steps, and howl after them as, unclad, they fly down the street, in night-garments, under the calm starlight.
Who slew that man? Who blasted that home? Who plunged those children into worse than orphanage—until the hands are blue with cold, and the cheeks are blanched with fear, and the brow is scarred with bruises, and the eyes are hollow with grief? Who made that life a wreck, and filled eternity with the uproar of a doomed spirit?
There are those whose regular business it is to work this death. They mix a cup that glows and flashes and foams with enchantment. They call it Cognac, or Hock, or Heidsick, or Schnapps, or Old Bourbon, or Brandy, or Champagne; but they tell not that in the ruddy glow there is the blood of sacrifice, and in its flash the eye of uncoiled adders, and in the foam the mouth-froth of eternal death. Not knowing what a horrible mixture it is, men take it up and drink it down—the sacrificial blood, the adder's venom, the death-froth—and smack their lips and call it a delightful beverage.
Oh! if I had some art by which I could break the charm of the tempter's bowl, and with mailed hand lift out the long serpent of eternal despair, and shake out its coils, and cast it down, and crush it to death!
But the enchantment cannot thus be broken. It hides in the bottom of the bowl; and not until a man is entirely fallen does the monster lift itself up, and strike with its terrific fangs, and answer all his implorations for mercy with fiendish hiss. We must arouse public opinion, until city, State, and national officials shall no longer dare to neglect the execution of the law. We have enough enactments now to revolutionize our cities and strike terror through the drinking-houses and gambling-dens and houses of sin. Tracts distributed will not do it; Bibles printed will not accomplish it; city missionaries have not power for the work.
Will tracts do it? As well try with three or four snow-flakes to put out Cotapaxi!
We want police officers, common councilmen, aldermen, sheriffs, mayors, who will execute the law. Give us for two weeks in our cities an honest city hall, and public pollution would fall like lightning from heaven!
If you republicans, and you democrats, do not do your duty in this regard, we will, after a while, form a party of our own, and put men in position pledged to anti-rum, anti-dirt, anti-nuisances, anti-monopolies, anti-abominations, and will give to those of you who have been so long feeding on public spoils, careless of public morals, not so much as the wages of a street sweeper.
We are not discouraged. It may seem to many that all of our battling against these evils will come to naught. But if the coral insects can lift an island, our feeble efforts, under God, may raise a break-water that will dash back the surges of municipal abomination. Beside, we toil not in our own strength.
It seemed insignificant for Moses to stretch his hand over the Red Sea. What power could that have over the waters? But the east wind blew all night; the waters gathered into two glittering palisades on either side. The billows reared as God's hand pulled back upon their crystal bits. Wheel into line, O Israel! March! March! Pearls crash under the feet. The flying spray springs a rainbow arch over the victors. The shout of hosts mounting the beach answers the shout of hosts mid-sea; until, as the last line of the Israelites have gained the beach, the shields clang, and the cymbals clap; and as the waters whelm the pursuing foe, the swift-fingered winds on the white keys of the foam play the grand march of Israel delivered, and the awful dirge of Egyptian overthrow.
So we go forth; and stretch out the hand of prayer and Christian effort over these dark, boiling waters of crime and suffering. "Aha! Aha!" say the deriding world. But wait. The winds of divine help will begin to blow; the way will clear for the great army of Christian philanthropists; the glittering treasures of the world's beneficence will line the path of our feet; and to the other shore we will be greeted with the clash of all heaven's cymbals; while those who resist and deride and pursue us will fall under the sea, and there will be nothing left of them but here and there, cast high and dry upon the beach, the splintered wheel of a chariot, and, thrust out from the surf, the breathless nostril of a riderless charger.
The inhabitants of one of the old cities were told that they would have to fly for their lives. Such flight would be painful, even in the flush of spring-time, but superlatively aggravating if in cold weather; and therefore they were told to pray that their flight be not in the winter.
There is something in the winter season that not only tests our physical endurance, but, especially in the city, tries our moral character. It is the winter months that ruin, morally, and forever, many of our young men. We sit in the house on a winter's night, and hear the storm raging on the outside, and imagine the helpless crafts driven on the coast; but if our ears were only good enough, we could, on any winter night, hear the crash of a hundred moral shipwrecks.
Many who came last September to town, by the first of March will have been blasted. It only takes one winter to ruin a young man. When the long winter evenings have come, many of our young men will improve them in forming a more intimate acquaintance with books, contracting higher social friendships, and strengthening and ennobling their characters. But not so with all. I will show you before I get through that, at this season of the year, temptations are especially rampant: and my counsel is, Look out how you spend your winter nights!
I remark, first, that there is no season of the year in which vicious allurements are so active.
In warm weather, places of dissipation win their tamest triumphs. People do not feel like going, in the hot nights of summer, among the blazing gas-lights, or breathing the fetid air of assemblages. The receipts of the grog-shops in a December night are three times what they are in any night in July or August. I doubt not there are larger audiences in the casinos in winter than in the summer weather. Iniquity plies a more profitable trade. December, January, and February are harvest-months for the devil. The play-bills of the low entertainments then are more charming, the acting is more exquisite, the enthusiasm of the spectators more bewitching. Many a young man who makes out to keep right the rest of the year, capsizes now. When he came to town in the autumn, his eye was bright, his cheek rosy, his step elastic; but, before spring, as you pass him you will say to your friend, "What is the matter with that young man?" The fact is that one winter of dissipation has done the work of ruin.
This is the season for parties; and, if they are of the right kind, our social nature is improved, and our spirits cheered up. But many of them are not of the right kind; and our young people, night after night, are kept in the whirl of unhealthy excitement until their strength fails, and their spirits are broken down, and their taste for ordinary life corrupted; and, by the time the spring weather comes, they are in the doctor's hands, or sleeping in the cemetery. The certificate of their death is made out, and the physician, out of regard for the family, calls the disease by some Latin name, when the truth is that they died of too many parties.
Away with these wine-drinking convivialities! How dare you, the father of a household, trifle with the appetites of our young people? Perhaps, out of regard for the minister, or some other weak temperance man, you have the decanter in a side-room, where, after refreshments, only a select few are invited; and you come back with a glare in your eye, and a stench in your breath, that shows that you have been out serving the devil.
Some one asks, "For what purpose are these people gone into that side-room?"
"O," replies one who has just come out, smacking his lips, "they have gone in to see the white dog!"
The excuse which Christian men often give for this is, that it is necessary, after such late eating, by some sort of stimulant to help digestion. My plain opinion is, that if a man have no more control over his appetite than to stuff himself until his digestive organs refuse to do their office, he ought not to call himself a man, but rather to class himself among the beasts that perish. I take the words of the Lord Almighty, and cry, "Woe to him that putteth the bottle to his neighbor's lips!"
Young man, take it as the counsel of a friend, when I bid you be cautious where you spend your winter evenings. Thank God that you have lived to see the glad winter days in which your childhood was made cheerful by the faces of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, some of whom, alas! will never again wish you a "happy New Year," or a "Merry Christmas."
Let no one tempt you out of your sobriety. I have seen respectable young men of the best families drunk on New Year's day. The excuse they gave for the inebriation was that the ladies insisted on their taking it. There have been instances where the delicate hand of woman hath kindled a young man's taste for strong drink, who after many years, when the attractions of that holiday scene were all forgotten, crouched in her rags, and her desolation, and her woe under the uplifted hand of the drunken monster who, on that Christmas morning so long ago, took the glass from her hand. And so, the woman stands on the abutment of the bridge, on the moon-lit night, wondering if, down under the water, there is not some quiet place for a broken heart. She takes one wild leap,—and all is over!
Ah! mingle not with the harmless beverage of your festive scene this poison of adders! Mix not with the white sugar of the cup the snow of this awful leprosy! Mar not the clatter of cutlery at the holiday feast with the clank of a madman's chain!
Stop and look into the window of that pawnbroker's shop. Elegant furs. Elegant watches. Elegant scarfs. Elegant flutes. People stand with a pleased look gazing at these things; but I look in with a shudder, as though I had seen into a window of hell.
Whose elegant watch was that? It was a drunkard's watch!
Whose furs? They belonged to a drunkard's wife!
Whose flute? Whose shoes? Whose scarf? They belonged to a drunkard's child!
If I could, I would take the three brazen balls hanging at the door-way, and clang them together until they tolled the awful knell of the drunkard's soul. The pawnbroker's shop is only one eddy of the great stream of municipal drunkenness.
Stand back, young man! Take not the first step in the path that leads here. Let not the flame of strong drink ever scorch your tongue. You may tamper with these things and escape, but your influence will be wrong. Can you not make a sacrifice for the good of others?
When the good ship London went down, the captain was told that there was a way of escape in one of the life-boats. He said—"No; I will go down with the rest of the passengers!" All the world acknowledged that heroism.
Can you not deny yourself insignificant indulgences for the good of others? Be not allured by the fact that you drink only the moderate beverages. You take only ale; and a man has to drink a large amount of it to become intoxicated. Yes; but there is not in all the city to-day an inebriate that did not begin with ale.
"XXX:" What does that mark mean? XXX on the beer-barrel: XXX on the brewer's dray: XXX on the door of the gin-shop: XXX on the side of the bottle. Not being able to find any one who could tell me what this mark means, I have had to guess that the whole thing was an allegory: XXX—that is, thirty heartbreaks. Thirty agonies. Thirty desolated homes. Thirty chances for a drunkard's grave. Thirty ways to perdition.
"XXX." If I were going to write a story, the first chapter would be XXX.; the last—"A pawnbroker's shop."
Be watchful! At this season all the allurements to dissipation will be especially busy. Let not your flight to hell be in the winter.
I also remark that the winter evenings, through their very length, allow great swing for indulgences. Few young men would have the taste to go to their room at seven o'clock, and sit until eleven, reading Motley's Dutch Republic or John Foster's Essays. The young men who have been confined to the store all day want fresh air and sight-seeing; and they must go somewhere. The most of them have, of a winter's evening, three or four hours of leisure. After the evening repast, the young man puts on his hat and coat and goes out.
"Come in here," cries one form of allurement.
"Come in here," cries another.
"Go;" says Satan. "You ought to see for yourself."
"Why don't you go?" says a comrade. "It is a shame for a young man to be as green as you are. By this time you ought to have seen everything."
Especially is temptation strong in such times as this, when business is dull. I have noticed that men spend more money when they have little to spend.
The tremendous question to be settled by our great populace, day by day, is how to get a livelihood. Many of our young men, just starting for themselves, are very much discouraged. They had hoped before this to have set up a household of their own. But their gains have been slow, and their discouragements many. The young man can hardly take care of himself. How can he take care of another? And, to the curse of modern society, before a young man is able to set up a home of his own, he is expected to have enough to support in idleness somebody else; when God intended that they should begin together, and jointly earn a livelihood. So, many of our young men are utterly discouraged, and utterly unfit to resist temptation.
The time the pirate bears down upon the ship is when its sails are down and it is making no headway.
People wish they had more time to think. The trouble is now, that people have too much time to think. Give to many of our commercial men the four hours of these winter nights, with nothing to divert them, and before spring they will have lodgings in an insane asylum.
I remark further, that the winter is especially trying to the moral character of our young men, because some of their homes in winter are especially unattractive. In summer they can sit on the steps, or have a bouquet in the vase on the mantel; and the evenings are so short that soon after gas-light they feel like retiring. Parents do not take enough pains to make these long winter nights attractive.
It is strange that old people know so little about young people. One would think that they had never been young themselves, but had been born with their spectacles on. It is dolorous for young people to spend the three or four hours of a winter's evening with parents who sit talking over their own ailments and misfortunes, and the nothingness of this world. How dare you talk such blasphemy? God was busy six days in making the world, and has allowed it to hang six thousand years on his holy heart; and that world hath fed you, and clothed you, and shone on you for fifty years: and yet you talk about the nothingness of this world! Do you expect the young people in your family to sit a whole evening and hear you groan about this magnificent, star-lighted, sun-warmed, shower-baptized, flower-strewn, angel-watched, God-inhabited planet? From such homes young men make a wild plunge into dissipation. Many of you have the means: why do you not buy them a violin or a picture? or have your daughter cultured in music until she can help to make home attractive?
There are ten thousand ways of lighting up the domestic circle. It requires no large income, no big house, no rich wardrobe, no chased silver, no gorgeous upholstery, but a parental heart awake to its duty.
Have a doleful home and your children will not stay in it, though you block up the door with Bibles, and tie fast to them a million Heidelberg catechisms.
I said to a man, "This is a beautiful tree in front of your house."
He answered, with a whine, "Yes; but it will fade."
I said to him, "You have a beautiful garden."
He replied, "Yes; but it will perish."
I found out afterward that his son was a vagabond, and I was not surprised at it.
You cannot groan men into decency, but you can groan them out.
Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter! Devote these December, January and February evenings to high pursuits, innocent amusements, intelligent socialities, and Christian attainments. Do not waste this winter. We shall soon have seen the last snow-shower, and have passed up into the companionship of Him whose raiment is exceeding white as snow—as no fuller on earth can whiten it.
To the right-hearted, the winter nights of earth will soon end in the June morning of heaven.
The River of God, from under the Throne, never freezes over. The foliage of Life's fair tree is never frost-bitten. The festivals, and hilarities, and family gatherings of Christmas times on earth, will give way to the larger reunions, and the brighter lights, and the gladder scenes, and the sweeter garlands, and the richer feastings of the great holiday of Heaven.
THE POWER OF CLOTHES.
One cannot always tell by a man's coat what kind of a heart he has under it; still, his dress is apt to be the out-blossoming of his character, and is not to be disregarded.
We make no indiscriminate onslaught upon customs of dress. Why did God put spots on the pansy, or etch the fern leaf? And what are china-asters good for if style and color are of no importance?
The realm is as wide as the world, and as far-reaching as all the generations, over which fashion hath extended her sceptre. For thousands of years she hath sat queen over all the earth, and the revolutions that rock down all other thrones have not in the slighest affected her domination. Other constitutions have been torn, and other laws trampled; but to her decrees conquerors have bowed their plumes, and kings have uncovered. Victoria is not Queen of England; Napoleon was not Emperor of France; Isabella was not Queen of Spain. Fashion has been regnant over all the earth; and lords and dukes, kings and queens, have been the subjects of her realm.
She arranged the mantle of the patriarch, and the toga of the Roman; the small shoe of the Chinese women, and the turban of the Turk; the furs of the Laplander, and the calumet of the Indian chieftain. Hottentot and Siberian obey the mandate, as well as Englishman and American. Her laws are written on parchment and palm-leaf, on broken arch and cathedral tracery. She arranged how the Egyptian mummy should be wound, and how Caesar should ride, and how the Athenians should speak, and how through the Venetian canals the gondoliers should row their pleasure-boat. Her hand hath hung the pillars with embroidery, and strewn the floor with plush. Her loom hath woven fabrics graceful as the snow and pure as the light. Her voice is heard in the gold mart, in the roar of the street, in the shuffle of the crowded bazaars, in the rattle of the steam-presses, and in the songs of the churches.
You have limited your observation of the sway of fashion if you have considered it only as it decides individual and national costumes. It makes the rules of behavior. It wields an influence in artistic spheres—often deciding what pictures shall hang in the house, what music shall be played, what ornaments shall stand upon the mantle. The poor man will not have on his wall the cheap wood-cut that he can afford, because he cannot have a great daub like that which hangs on the rich man's wall, and costing three hundred dollars.
Fashion helps to make up religious belief. It often decides to what church we shall go, and what religious tenets we shall adopt. It goes into the pulpit, and decides the gown, and the surplice, and the style of rhetoric.
It goes into literature and arranges the binding, the type, the illustrations of the book, and oftentimes the sentiments expressed and the theories evolved.
Men the most independent in feeling are by it compelled to submit to social customs. And before I stop I want to show you that fashion has been one of the most potent of reformers, and one of the vilest of usurpers. Sometimes it has been an angel from heaven, and at others it has been the mother of harlots.
As the world grows better there will be as much fashion as now, but it will be a different fashion. In the future life white robes always have been and always will be in the fashion.
There is a great outcry against this submission to social custom, as though any consultation of the tastes and feelings of others were deplorable; but without it the world would have neither law, order, civilization, nor common decency.
There has been a canonization of bluntness. There are men and women who boast that they can tell you all they know and hear about you, especially if it be unpleasant. Some have mistaken rough behavior for frankness, when the two qualities do not belong to the same family. You have no right, with your eccentricities, to crash in upon the sensitiveness of others. There is no virtue in walking with hoofs over fine carpets. The most jagged rock is covered with blossoming moss. The storm that comes jarring down in thunder strews rainbow colors upon the sky, and silvery drops on orchard and meadow.
There are men who pride themselves on their capacity to "stick" others. They say "I have brought him down: Didn't I make him squirm!"
Others pride themselves on their outlandish apparel. They boast of being out of the fashion. They wear a queer hat. They ride in an odd carriage. By dint of perpetual application they would persuade the world that they are perfectly indifferent to public opinion. They are more proud of being "out of fashion" than others are of being in. They are utterly and universally disagreeable. Their rough corners have never been worn off. They prefer a hedge-hog to a lamb.
The accomplishments of life are in nowise productive of effeminacy or enervation. Good manners and a respect for the tastes of others is indispensable. The Good Book speaks favorably of those who are a "peculiar" people; but that does not sanction the behavior of queer people. There is no excuse, under any circumstances, for not being and acting the lady or gentleman. Rudeness is sin. We have no words too ardent to express our admiration for the refinements of society. There is no law, moral or divine, to forbid elegance of demeanor, ornaments of gold or gems for the person, artistic display in the dwelling, gracefulness of gait and bearing, polite salutation, or honest compliments; and he who is shocked or offended by these had better, like the old Scythians, wear tiger-skins, and take one wild leap back into midnight barbarism.
As Christianity advances there will be better apparel, higher styles of architecture, more exquisite adornments, sweeter music, grander pictures, more correct behavior, and more thorough ladies and gentlemen.
But there is another story to be told. Excessive fashion is to be charged with many of the worst evils of society, and its path has often been strewn with the bodies of the slain.
It has often set up a false standard by which people are to be judged. Our common sense, as well as all the divine intimations on the subject, teach us that people ought to be esteemed according to their individual and moral attainments. The man who has the most nobility of soul should be first, and he who has the least of such qualities should stand last. No crest, or shield, or escutcheon, can indicate one's moral peerage. Titles of duke, lord, esquire, earl, viscount, or patrician, ought not to raise one into the first rank. Some of the meanest men I have ever known had at the end of their name D.D., LL.D., and F.R.S. Truth, honor, charity, heroism, self-sacrifice, should win highest favor; but inordinate fashion says—"Count not a woman's virtues; count her rings;" "Look not at the contour of the head, but see the way she combs her hair;" "Ask not what noble deeds have been accomplished by that man's hand; but is it white and soft?" Ask not what good sense was in her conversation, but "in what was she dressed." Ask not whether there was hospitality and cheerfulness in the house, but "in what style do they live."
As a consequence, some of the most ignorant and vicious men are at the top, and some of the most virtuous and intelligent at the bottom. During the late war we suddenly saw men hurled up into the highest social positions. Had they suddenly reformed from evil habits? or graduated in a science? or achieved some good work for society? No! They simply had obtained a government contract!
This accounts for the utter chagrin which men feel at the treatment they receive when they lose their property. Hold up your head amid financial disaster, like a Christian! Fifty thousand subtracted from a good man leaves how much? Honor; Truth; Faith in God; Triumphant Hope; and a kingdom of ineffable glory, over which he is to reign forever and ever.
If a millionnaire should lose a penny out of his pocket, would he sit down on a curb-stone and cry? And shall a man possessed of everlasting fortunes wear himself out with grief because he has lost worldly treasure? You have only lost that in which hundreds of wretched misers surpass you; and you have saved that which the Caesars, and the Pharaohs, and the Alexanders could never afford.
And yet society thinks differently; and you see the most intimate friendships broken up as the consequence of financial embarrassments. You say to some one—"How is your friend ——?" The man looks bewildered, and says, "I do not know." You reply, "Why; you used to be intimate." "Well," says the man, "our friendship has been dropped: the man has failed."
Proclamation has gone forth: "Velvets must go up, and homespun must come down;" and the question is "How does the coat fit?"—not, "Who wears it?" The power that bears the tides of excited population up and down our streets, and rocks the world of commerce, and thrills all nations, Transatlantic and Cisatlantic, is—clothes. It decides the last offices of respect; and how long the dress shall be totally black; and when it may subside into spots of grief on silk, calico, or gingham. Men die in good circumstances, but by reason of extravagant funeral expenses are well nigh insolvent before they get buried. Many men would not die at all, if they had to wait until they could afford it.
Excessive fashion is productive of a most ruinous strife. The expenditure of many households is adjusted by what their neighbors have, not by what they themselves can afford to have; and the great anxiety is as to who shall have the finest house and the most costly equipage. The weapons used in the warfare of social life are not Minie rifles, and Dahlgren guns, and Hotchkiss shells, but chairs and mirrors, and vases, and Gobelins, and Axminsters. Many household establishments are like racing steamboats, propelled at the utmost strain and risk, and just coming to a terrific explosion. "Who cares," say they, "if we only come out ahead?"
There is no one cause to-day of more financial embarrassment, and of more dishonesties, than this determination, at all hazards, to live as well as or better than other people. There are persons who will risk their eternity upon one fine looking-glass, or who will dash out the splendors of heaven to get another trinket.
"My house is too small." "But," says some one, "you cannot pay for a larger." "Never mind that; my friends have a better residence, and so will I." "A dress of that pattern I must have. I cannot afford it by a great deal; but who cares for that? My neighbor had one from that pattern, and I must have one." There are scores of men in the dungeons of the penitentiary, who risked honor, business,—everything, in the effort to shine like others. Though the heavens fall, they must be "in the fashion."
The most famous frauds of the day have resulted from this feeling. It keeps hundreds of men struggling for their commercial existence. The trouble is that some are caught and incarcerated, if their larceny be small. If it be great, they escape, and build their castle on the Rhine. Men go into jail, not because they steal, but because they did not steal enough.
Again: excessive fashion makes people unnatural and untrue. It is a factory from which has come forth more hollow pretences, and unmeaning flatteries, and hypocrisies, than the Lowell Mills ever turned out shawls and garments.
Fashion is the greatest of all liars. It has made society insincere. You know not what to believe. When people ask you to come, you do not know whether or not they want you to come. When they send their regards, you do not know whether it is an expression of their heart, or an external civility. We have learned to take almost everything at a discount. Word is sent, "Not at home," when they are only too lazy to dress themselves. They say, "The furnace has just gone out," when in truth they have had no fire in it all winter. They apologize for the unusual barrenness of their table, when they never live any better. They decry their most luxurious entertainments, to win a shower of approval. They apologize for their appearance, as though it were unusual, when always at home they look just so. They would make you believe that some nice sketch on the wall was the work of a master painter. "It was an heir-loom, and once hung on the walls of a castle; and a duke gave it to their grandfather." People who will lie about nothing else, will lie about a picture. On a small income we must make the world believe that we are affluent, and our life becomes a cheat, a counterfeit, and a sham.
Few persons are really natural. When I say this, I do not mean to slur cultured manners. It is right that we should have more admiration for the sculptured marble than for the unhewn block of the quarry. From many circles in life fashion has driven out vivacity and enthusiasm. A frozen dignity instead floats about the room, and iceberg grinds against iceberg. You must not laugh outright: it is vulgar. You must smile. You must not dash rapidly across the room: you must glide. There is a round of bows, and grins, and flatteries, and oh's! and ah's! and simperings, and namby-pambyism—a world of which is not worth one good, round, honest peal of laughter. From such a hollow round the tortured guest retires at the close of the evening, and assures his host that he has enjoyed himself.
Thus social life has been contorted, and deformed, until, in some mountain cabin, where rustics gather to the quilting or the apple-paring, there is more good cheer than in all the frescoed ice-houses of the metropolis.
We want, in all the higher circles of society, more warmth of heart and naturalness of behavior, and not so many refrigerators.
Again: inordinate fashion is incompatible with happiness. Those who depend for their comfort upon the admiration of others are subject to frequent disappointment. Somebody will criticise their appearance, or surpass them in brilliancy, or will receive more attention. Oh! the jealousy, and detraction, and heart-burnings of those who move in this bewildered maze!
The clock strikes one, and the company begins to disperse. The host has done everything to make all his guests happy; but now that they are on the street, hear their criticisms of everybody and everything. "Did you see her in such and such apparel?" "Wasn't she a perfect fright!" "What a pity that such an one is so awkward and uncouth!" "Well, really,—I would rather never be spoken to than be seen with such a man as that!"
Poor butterflies! Bright wings do not always bring happiness. "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth." The revelations of high life that come to the challenge and the fight are only the occasional croppings out of disquietudes that are, underneath, like the stars of heaven for multitude, but like the demons of the pit for hate. The misery that to-night in the cellar cuddles up in the straw is not so utter as the princely disquietude which stalks through splendid drawing-rooms, brooding over the slights and offences of high life. The bitterness of trouble seems not so unfitting, when drunk out of a pewter mug, as when it pours from the chased lips of a golden chalice. In the sharp crack of the voluptuary's pistol, putting an end to his earthly misery, I hear the confirmation that in a hollow, fastidious life there is no peace.
Again: Excessive devotion to fashion is productive of physical disease, mental imbecility, and spiritual withering.
Apparel insufficient to keep out the cold and the rain, or so fitted upon the person that the functions of life are restrained; late hours, filled with excitement and feasting; free draughts of wine, that make one not beastly intoxicated, but only fashionably drunk; and luxurious indolence—are the instruments by which this unreal life pushes its disciples into valetudinarianism and the grave. Along the walks of high life Death goes a mowing—and such harvests as are reaped! Materia medica has been exhausted to find curatives for these physiological devastations. Dropsies, cancers, consumptions, gout, and almost every infirmity in all the realm of pathology, have been the penalty paid. To counteract the damage, pharmacy has gone forth with medicament, panacea, elixir, embrocation, salve, and cataplasm.
To-night, with swollen feet, upon cushioned ottoman, and groaning with aches innumerable, is the votary of luxurious living, not half so happy as his groom or coal-heaver.
Fashion is the world's undertaker, and drives thousands of hearses to Laurel Hill and Greenwood.
But, worse than that, this folly is an intellectual depletion. This endless study of proprieties and etiquette, patterns and styles, is bedwarfing to the intellect. I never knew a man or a woman of extreme fashion that knew much. How belittling the study of the cut of a coat, or the tie of a cravat, or the wrinkle in a shoe, or the color of a ribbon! How they are worried if something gets untied, or hangs awry, or is not nicely adjusted! With a mind capable of measuring the height and depth of great subjects; able to unravel mysteries; to walk through the universe; to soar up into the infinity of God's attributes,—hovering perpetually over a new style of mantilla! I have known men, reckless as to their character, and regardless of interests momentous and eternal, exasperated by the shape of a vest-button!
What is the matter with that woman—wrought up into the agony of despair? O, her muff is out of fashion!
Worse than all—this folly is not satisfied until it has extirpated every moral sentiment, and blasted the soul. A wardrobe is the rock upon which many a soul has been riven. The excitement of a luxurious life has been the vortex that has swallowed up more souls than the Maelstrom off Norway ever devoured ships. What room for elevating themes in a heart filled with the trivial and unreal? Who can wonder that in this haste for sun-gilded bawbles and winged thistle-down, men should tumble into ruin? The travellers to destruction are not all clothed in rags. On that road chariot jostles against chariot; and behind steeds in harness golden-plated and glittering, they go down, coach and four, herald and postilion, racketing on the hot pavements of hell. Clear the track! Bazaars hang out their colors over the road; and trees of tropical fruitfulness overbranch the way. No sound of woe disturbs the air; but all is light and song, and wine and gorgeousness. The world comes out to greet the dazzling procession with Hurrah! and Hurrah! But, suddenly, there is a halt and an outcry of dismay, and an overthrow worse than the Red Sea tumbling upon the Egyptians. Shadow of grave-stones upon finest silk! Wormwood squeezed into impearled goblets! Death, with one cold breath, withering the leaves and freezing the fountains.
In the wild tumult of the last day—the mountains falling, the heavens flying, the thrones uprising, the universe assembling; amid the boom of the last great thunder-peal, and under the crackling of a burning world—what will become of the fop and the dandy?
He who is genuinely refined will be useful and happy. There is no gate that a gentleman's hand cannot open. During his last sickness there will be a timid knock at the basement door by those who have come to see how he is.
But watch the career of one thoroughly artificial. Through inheritance, or perhaps his own skill, having obtained enough for purposes of display, he feels himself thoroughly established. He sits aloof from the common herd, and looks out of his window upon the poor man, and says—"Put that dirty wretch off my steps immediately!" On Sabbath days he finds the church, but mourns the fact that he must worship with so many of the inelegant, and says, "They are perfectly awful!" "That man that you put in my pew had a coat on his back that did not cost five dollars." He struts through life unsympathetic with trouble, and says, "I cannot be bothered." Is delighted with some doubtful story of Parisian life, but thinks that there are some very indecent things in the Bible. Walks arm in arm with a millionnaire, but does not know his own brother. Loves to be praised for his splendid house; and when told that he looks younger than ten years ago, says—"Well, really; do you think so!"
But the brief strut of his life is about over. Up-stairs—he dies. No angel wings hovering about him. No gospel promises kindling up the darkness;—but exquisite embroidery, elegant pictures, and a bust of Shakespeare on the mantel. The pulses stop. The minister comes in to read of the Resurrection, that day when the dead shall come up—both he that died on the floor, and he that expired under princely upholstery. He is carried out to burial. Only a few mourners, but a great array of carriages. Not one common man at the funeral. No befriended orphan to weep a tear upon his grave. No child of want pressing through the ranks of the weeping, saying—"He is the last friend I have; and I must see him."
What now? He was a great man: Shall not chariots of salvation come down to the other side of the Jordan, and escort him up to the palace? Shall not the angels exclaim—"Turn out! a prince is coming." Will the bells chime? Will there be harpers with their harps, and trumpeters with their trumpets?
No! No! No! There will be a shudder, as though a calamity had happened. Standing on heaven's battlement, a watchman will see something shoot past, with fiery downfall, and shriek: "Wandering star—for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever!"
With the funeral pageant the brilliant career terminated. There was a great array of carriages.
When night came down on Babylon, Nineveh, and Jerusalem, they needed careful watching, otherwise the incendiary's torch might have been thrust into the very heart of the metropolitan splendor; or enemies, marching from the hills, might have forced the gates. All night long, on top of the wall and in front of the gates, might be heard the measured step of the watchman on his solitary beat; silence hung in air, save as some passer-by raised the question: "Watchman, what of the night?"
It is to me a deeply suggestive and solemn thing to see a man standing guard by night. It thrilled through me, as at the gate of an arsenal in Charleston, the question once smote me, "Who comes there?" followed by the sharp command: "Advance and give the countersign." Every moral teacher stands on picket, or patrols the wall as watchman. His work is to sound the alarm; and whether it be in the first watch, in the second watch, in the third watch, or in the fourth watch, to be vigilant until the daybreak flings its "morning glories" of blooming cloud across the arching trellis of the sky.
The ancients divided their night into four parts—the first watch, from six to nine; the second, from nine to twelve; the third, from twelve to three; and the fourth, from three to six.
I speak now of the city in the third watch, or from twelve to three o'clock.
I never weary of looking upon the life and brilliancy of the city in the first watch. That is the hour when the stores are closing. The laboring men, having quitted the scaffolding and the shop, are on their way home. It rejoices me to give them my seat in the city car. They have stood and hammered away all day. Their feet are weary. They are exhausted with the tug of work. They are mostly cheerful. With appetites sharpened on the swift turner's wheel and the carpenter's whetstone, they seek the evening meal. The clerks, too, have broken away from the counter, and with brain weary of the long line of figures, and the whims of those who go a-shopping, seek the face of mother, or wife and child. The merchants are unharnessing themselves from their anxieties, on their way up the street. The boys that lock up are heaving away at the shutters, shoving the heavy bolts, and taking a last look at the fire to see that all is safe. The streets are thronged with young men, setting out from the great centres of bargain-making.
Let idlers clear the street, and give right of way to the besweated artisans and merchants! They have earned their bread, and are now on their way home to get it.
The lights in full jet hang over ten thousand evening repasts—the parents at either end of the table, the children between. Thank God! "who setteth the solitary in families!"
A few hours later, and all the places of amusement, good and bad, are in full tide. Lovers of art, catalogue in hand, stroll through the galleries and discuss the pictures. The ball-room is resplendent with the rich apparel of those who, on either side of the white, glistening boards, await the signal from the orchestra. The footlights of the theatre flash up; the bell rings, and the curtain rises; and out from the gorgeous scenery glide the actors, greeted with the vociferation of the expectant multitudes. Concert-halls are lifted into enchantment with the warble of one songstress, or swept out on a sea of tumultuous feeling by the blast of brazen instruments. Drawing-rooms are filled with all gracefulness of apparel, with all sweetness of sound, with all splendor of manner; mirrors are catching up and multiplying the scene, until it seems as if in infinite corridors there were garlanded groups advancing and retreating.
The out-door air rings with laughter, and with the moving to and fro of thousands on the great promenades. The dashing span, adrip with the foam of the long country ride, rushes past as you halt at the curb-stone.
Mirth, revelry, beauty, fashion, magnificence mingle in the great metropolitan picture, until the thinking man goes home to think more seriously, and the praying man to pray more earnestly.
A beautiful and overwhelming thing is the city in the first and second watches of the night.
But the clock strikes twelve, and the third watch begins. The thunder of the city has rolled from the air. Slight sounds now cut the night with a distinctness that excites your attention. You hear the tinkling of the bell of the street-car in the far distance; the baying of the dog; the stamp of the horse in the adjoining street; the slamming of a saloon door; the hiccoughing of the inebriate; and the shriek of the steam-whistle five miles away. Solemn and stupendous is this third watch. There are respectable men abroad. The city missionary is going up that court, to take a scuttle of coal to a poor family. The undertaker goes up the steps of that house, from which there comes a bitter cry, as though the destroying angel had smitten the first-born. The minister of Jesus passes along; he has been giving the sacrament to a dying Christian. The physician hastens past, the excited messenger a few steps ahead, impatient to reach the threshold. Men who are forced to toil into the midnight are hastening to their pillow. But the great multitudes are asleep. The lights are out in the dwellings, save here and there one. That is the light of the watcher, for the remedies must be administered, and the fever guarded, and the restless tossing of the coverlet resisted, and the ice kept upon the temples, and the perpetual prayer offered by hearts soon to be broken. The street-lamps, standing in long line, reveal the silence and the slumber of the town.
Stupendous thought: a great city asleep! Weary arm gathering strength for to-morrow's toil. Hot brain getting cooled off. Rigid muscles relaxing. Excited nerves being soothed. White locks of the octogenarian in thin drifts across the white pillow—fresh fall of flakes on snow already fallen. Children with dimpled hands thrown put over the pillow, with every breath inhaling a new store of fun and frolic.
Let the great hosts sleep! A slumberless Eye will watch them. Silent be the alarm-bells and merciful the elements! Let one great wave of refreshing slumber roll across the heart of the great town, submerging trouble and weariness and pain. It is the third watch of the night, and time for the city to sleep.
But be not deceived. There are thousands of people in the great town who will not sleep a moment to-night. Go up that dark court. Be careful, or you will fall over the prostrate form of a drunkard lying on his own worn step. Look about you, or you will feel the garroter's hug. Try to look in through that broken pane! What do you see? Nothing. But listen. What is it? "God help us!" No footlights, but tragedy—mightier, ghastlier than Ristori or Edwin Booth ever acted. No bread. No light. No fire. No cover. They lie strewn upon the floor—two whole families in one room. They shiver in the darkness. They have had no food to-day. You say: "Why don't they beg?" They did beg, but got nothing. You say: "Hand them over to the almshouse."
Ah! they had rather die than go to the almshouse. Have you never heard the bitter cry of the man or of the child when told that he must go to the almshouse?
You say that these are vicious poor, and have brought their own misfortune on themselves.
So much the more to be pitied. The Christian poor—God helps them! Through their night there twinkles the round, merry star of hope, and through the cracked window-pane of their hovel they see the crystals of heaven. But the vicious are the more to be pitied. They have no hope. They are in hell now. They have put out their last light. People excuse themselves from charity by saying they do not deserve to be helped. If I have ten prayers for the innocent, I shall have twenty for the guilty. If a ship be dashed upon the rocks, the fisherman, in his hut on the beach, will wrap the warmest flannels around those who are the most chilled and battered. The vicious poor have suffered two awful wrecks, the wreck of the body, and the wreck of the soul; a wreck for time and a wreck for eternity.
Go up that alley! Open the door. It is not locked. They have nothing to lose. No burglar would want anything that is there. There is only a broken chair set against the door. Strike a match and look around you. Beastliness and rags! A shock of hair hanging over the scarred visage. Eyes glaring upon you. Offer no insult. Be careful what you say. Your life is not worth much in such a place. See that red mark on the wall. That is the mark of a murderer's hand. From the corner a wild face starts out of the straw and moves toward you, just as your light goes out.
Strike another match. Here is a little babe. It does not laugh. It never will laugh. A sea-flower flung on an awfully barren beach: O that the Shepherd would fold that lamb! Wrap your shawl about you, for the January wind sweeps in. Strike another match. The face of that young woman is bruised and gashed now, but a mother once gazed upon it in ecstasy of fondness. Awful stare of two eyes that seem looking up from the bottom of woe. Stand back. No hope has dawned on that soul for years. Hope never will dawn upon it. Utter no scorn. The match has gone out. Light it not again, for it would seem to be a mockery.
Pass out! Pass on! Know that there are thousands of such abodes in our cities. An awful, gloomy, and overwhelming picture is the city in the third watch.
After midnight the crime of the city does its chief work. At eight and a half o'clock in the evening the criminals of the city are at leisure. They are mostly in the drinking saloons. It needs courage to do what they propose to do. Rum makes men reckless. They are getting their brain and hand just right. Toward midnight they go to their garrets. They gather their tools. Soon after the third watch they stalk forth, silently, looking out for the police, through the alleys to their appointed work. This is a burglar; and the door-lock will fly open at the touch of the false keys. That is an incendiary; and before morning there will be a light on the sky, and a cry of "Fire! Fire!" That is an assassin; and a lifeless body will be found to-morrow in some of the vacant lots.
During all the day there are hundreds of villains to be found lounging about, a part of the time asleep, apart of the time awake; but at twelve to-night they will rouse up, and their eyes will be keen, and their minds acute, and their arms strong, and their foot fleet to fly or pursue. Many of them have been brought up to the work. They were born in a thief's garret. Their childish plaything was a burglar's dark lantern. As long ago as they can remember, they saw, toward morning, the mother binding up the father's head, wounded by a watchman's billet. They began by picking boys' pockets, and now they can dig an underground passage to the cellar of the bank, or will blast open the door of the gold vault. So long as the children of the street are neglected there will be no lack of desperadoes.
In the third watch of the night the gambling-houses are in full blast. What though the hours of the night are slipping away, and the wife sits waiting in the cheerless home! Stir up the fires! Bring on the drinks! Put up the stakes! A whole fortune may be made before morning! Some of the firms that two years ago first put out their sign of copartnership have already foundered on the gambler's table. The money-drawer in many a mercantile house will this year mysteriously spring a leak. Gaming is a portentous vice, and is making great efforts to become respectable. Recently a member of Congress played with a member elect, carrying off a trophy of one hundred and twenty thousand dollars. The old-fashioned way of getting a fortune is too slow! Let us toss up and see who shall have it!
And so it goes, from the wheezing wretches who pitch pennies in a rum grocery, to the millionnaire gamblers in the gold-market.
After midnight the eye of God will look down and see uncounted gambling-saloons plying their destruction. Passing down the street to-night, you may hear the wrangling of the gamblers mingling with the rattle of the dice, and the clear, sharp crack of the balls on the billiard-table.
The finest rooms in the city are gambling dens. In gilded parlor, amid costly tapestry, you may behold these dens of death. These houses have walls attractive with elaborate fresco and gems of painting—no sham artist's daub, but a masterpiece. Mantel and table glitter with vases and statuettes. Divans and lounges with deep cushions, the perfection of upholstery, invite to rest and repose. Aquaria alive with fins and strewn with tinged shells and zoophytes. Tufts of geranium, from bead baskets, suspended mid-room, drop their witching perfume. Fountains gushing up, sprinkling the air with sparkles, or gushing through the mouth of the marble lion. Long mirrors, mounted with scrolls and wings and exquisite carvings, catching and reflecting back the magnificence. At their doors merchant-princes dismount from their carriages; official dignitaries enter; legislators, tired of making laws, here take a respite in breaking them.
From all classes this crime is gathering its victims: the importer of foreign silks, and the Chatham street dealer in pocket-handkerchiefs; clerks taking a game in the store after the shutters are put up; and officers of the court whiling away the time while the jury are out. In the woods around Baden Baden, in the morning, it is no rare thing to find the suspended bodies of suicides. No splendor of surroundings can hide the dreadful nature of this sin. In the third watch of this very night, the tears of thousands of orphans and widows will dash up in those fountains. The thunders of eternal destruction roll in the deep rumble of that ten-pin alley. And as from respectable circles young men and old are falling in line of procession, all the drums of woe begin to beat the dead march of ten thousand souls.
Seven millions of dollars are annually lost in New York city at the gaming-table. Some of your own friends may be at it. The agents of these gaming-houses around our hotels are well dressed. They meet a stranger in the city; they ask him if he would like to see the city; he says, "Yes;" they ask him if he has seen that splendid building up town, and he says "No." "Then," says the villain to the greenhorn, "I will show you the lions and the elephants." After seeing the lions and the elephants, I would not give much for a young man's chance for decency or heaven. He looks in, and sees nothing objectionable; but let him beware, for he is on enchanted ground. Look out for the men who have such sleek hats—always sleek hats—and such a patronizing air, and who are so unaccountably interested in your welfare and entertainment. All that they want of you is your money. A young man on Chestnut street, Philadelphia, lost in a night all his money at the gaming-table, and, before he left the table, blew his brains out; but before the maid had cleaned up the blood the players were again at the table, shuffling away. A wolf has more compassion for the lamb whose blood it licks up; a highwayman more love for the belated traveller upon whose carcass he piles the stone; the frost more feeling for the flower it kills; the fire more tenderness for the tree-branch it consumes; the storm more pity for the ship that it shivers on Long Island coast, than a gambler's heart has mercy for his victim.
Deed of darkness unfit for sunlight, or early evening hour! Let it come forth only when most of the city lights are out, in the third watch of the night!
Again, it is after twelve o'clock that drunkenness shows its worst deformity! At eight or nine o'clock the low saloons are not so ghastly. At nine o'clock the victims are only talkative. At ten o'clock they are much flushed. At eleven o'clock their tongue is thick, and their hat occasionally falls from the head. At twelve they are nauseated and blasphemous, and not able to rise. At one they fall to the floor, asking for more drink. At two o'clock, unconscious and breathing hard. They would not fly though the house took fire. Soaked, imbruted, dead drunk! They are strewn all over the city, in the drinking saloons,—fathers, brothers, and sons; men as good as you, naturally—perhaps better.
Not so with the higher circles of intoxication. The "gentlemen" coax their fellow-reveller to bed, or start with him for home, one at each arm, holding him up; the night air is filled with his hooting and cursing. He will be helped into his own door. He will fall into the entry. Hush it up! Let not the children of the house be awakened to hear the shame. He is one of the merchant princes.
But you cannot always hush it up.
Drink makes men mad. One of its victims came home and found that his wife had died during his absence; and he went into the room where she had been prepared for the grave, and shook her from the shroud, and tossed her body out of the window. Where sin is loud and loathsome and frenzied, it is hard to keep it still. This whole land is soaked with the abomination. It became so bad in Massachusetts, that the State arose in indignation; and having appointed agents for the sale of alcohol for mechanical and medicinal purposes, prohibited the general traffic under a penalty of five hundred dollars. The popular proprietors of the Revere, Tremont, and Parker Houses were arrested. The grog-shops diminished in number from six thousand to six hundred. God grant that the time may speed on when all the cities and States shall rouse up, and put their foot upon this abomination.
As you pass along the streets, night by night, you will see the awful need that something radical be done. But you do not see the worst. That will come to pass long after you are sleeping—in the third watch of the night.
Oh! ye who have been longing for fields of work, here they are before you. At the London midnight meetings, thirteen thousand of the daughters of sin were reformed; and uncounted numbers of men, who were drunken and debauched, have been redeemed. If from our highest circles a few score of men and women would go forth among the wandering and the destitute, they might yet make the darkest alley of the town kindle with the gladness of heaven. Do not go in your warm furs, and from your well-laden tables, thinking that pious counsel will stop the gnawing of empty stomachs or warm their stockingless feet. Take food and medicine, and raiment, as well as a prayer. When the city missionary told the destitute woman she ought to love God, she said: "Ah! if you were as cold and hungry as I am, you could think of nothing else."
I am glad to know that not one earnest prayer, not one heartfelt alms-giving, not one kind word, ever goes unblessed. Among the mountains of Switzerland there is a place where, if your voice be uttered, there will come back a score of echoes. But utter a kind, sympathetic, and saving word in the dark places of the town, and there will come back ten thousand echoes from all the thrones of heaven.
There may be some one reading this who knows by experience of the tragedies enacted in the third watch of the night. I am not the man to thrust you back with one harsh word. Take off the bandage from your soul, and put on it the salve of the Saviour's compassion. There is rest in God for your tired soul. Many have come back from their wanderings. I see them coming now. Cry up the news to heaven! Set all the bells a-ringing! Under the high arch spread the banquet of rejoicing. Let all the crowned heads of heaven come in and keep the jubilee. I tell you there is more joy in heaven over one man who reforms than over ninety-and-nine who never got off the track.
But there is a man who will never return from his evil ways. How many acts are there in a tragedy? Five, I believe:
ACT I.—Young man starting from home. Parents and sisters weeping to have him go. Wagon passing over the hills. Farewell kiss thrown back. Ring the bell and let the curtain drop.
ACT II.—Marriage altar. Bright lights. Full organ. White veil trailing through the aisle. Prayer and congratulation, and exclamations of "How well she looks!" Ring the bell, and let the curtain drop.
ACT III.—Midnight. Woman waiting for staggering steps. Old garments stuck into the broken window-pane. Many marks of hardship on the face. Biting of the nails of bloodless fingers. Neglect, cruelty, disgrace. Ring the bell, and let the curtain drop.
ACT IV.—Three graves in a very dark place. Grave of child who died from lack of medicine. Grave of wife who died of a broken heart. Grave of husband and father who died of dissipation. Plenty of weeds, but no flowers. O what a blasted heath with three graves! Ring the bell, and let the curtain drop.
ACT V.—A destroyed soul's eternity. No light; no music; no hope! Despair coiling around the heart with unutterable anguish. Blackness of darkness forever.
Woe! Woe! Woe! I cannot bear longer to look. I close my eyes at this last act of the tragedy. Quick! Quick! Ring the bell and let the curtain drop.
THE INDISCRIMINATE DANCE.
It is the anniversary of Herod's birthday. The palace is lighted. The highways leading thereto are ablaze with the pomp of invited guests. Lords, captains, merchant princes, and the mightiest men of the realm are on the way to mingle in the festivities. The tables are filled with all the luxuries that the royal purveyors can gather,—spiced wines, and fruits, and rare meats. The guests, white-robed, anointed and perfumed, take their places. Music! The jests evoke roars of laughter. Riddles are propounded. Repartees indulged. Toasts drunk. The brain befogged. Wit gives place to uproar and blasphemy. And yet they are not satisfied. Turn on more light. Give us more music. Sound the trumpet. Clear the floor for the dance. Bring in Salome, the graceful and accomplished princess.
The doors are opened and in bounds the dancer. Stand back and give plenty of room for the gyrations. The lords are enchanted. They never saw such poetry of motion. Their souls whirl in the reel, and bound with the bounding feet. Herod forgets crown and throne,—everything but the fascinations of Salome. The magnificence of his realm is as nothing compared with that which now whirls before him on tiptoe. His heart is in transport with Salome as her arms are now tossed in the air, and now placed akimbo. He sways with every motion of the enchantress. He thrills with the quick pulsations of her feet, and is bewitched with the posturing and attitudes that he never saw before, in a moment exchanged for others just as amazing. He sits in silence before the whirling, bounding, leaping, flashing wonder. And when the dance stops, and the tinkling cymbals pause, and the long, loud plaudits that shook the palace with their thunders had abated, the entranced monarch swears unto the princely performer: "Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me I will give it to thee, to the half of my kingdom."
Now there was in prison a minister by the name of John the Baptist, who had made much trouble by his honest preaching. He had denounced the sins of the king, and brought down upon himself the wrath of the females in the royal family. At the instigation of her mother, Salome takes advantage of the king's extravagant promise and demands the head of John the Baptist on a dinner-plate.
There is a sound of heavy feet, and the clatter of swords outside of the palace. Swing back the door. The executioners are returning, from their awful errand. They hand a platter to Salome. What is that on the platter? A new tankard of wine to rekindle the mirth of the lords? No! It is redder than wine, and costlier. It is the ghastly, bleeding head of John the Baptist! Its locks dabbled in gore. Its eyes set in the death-stare. The distress of the last agony in the features. That fascinating form, that just now swayed so gracefully in the dance, bends over the horrid burden without a shudder. She gloats over the blood; and just as the maid of your household goes, bearing out on a tray the empty glasses of the evening's entertainment, so she carried out on a platter the dissevered head of that good man, while all the banqueters shouted, and thought it a grand joke, that, in such a brief and easy way, they had freed themselves from such a plain-spoken, troublesome minister.
What could be more innocent than a birthday festival? All the kings from the time of Pharaoh had celebrated such days; and why not Herod? It was right that the palace should be lighted, and that the cymbals should clap, and that the royal guests should go to a banquet; but, before the rioting and wassail that closed the scene of that day, every pure nature revolts.
Behold the work, the influence, and the end of an infamous dancer!
I am, by natural temperament and religious theory, utterly opposed to the position of those who are horrified at every demonstration of mirth and playfulness in social life, and who seem to think that everything, decent and immortal, depends upon the style in which people carry their feet. On the other hand, I can see nothing but ruin, moral and physical, in the dissipations of the ball-room, which have despoiled thousands of young men and women of all that gives dignity to character, or usefulness to life.
Dancing has been styled "the graceful movement of the body adjusted by art, to the measures or tune of instruments, or of the voice." All nations have danced. The ancients thought that Pollux and Castor at first taught the practice to the Lacedaemonians; but, whatever be its origin, all climes have adopted it.
In other days there were festal dances, and funeral dances, and military dances, and "mediatorial" dances, and bacchanalian dances. Queens and lords have swayed to and fro in their gardens; and the rough men of the backwoods in this way have roused up the echo of the forest. There seems to be something in lively and coherent sounds to evoke the movement of hand and foot, whether cultured or uncultured. Men passing the street unconsciously keep step to the music of the band; and Christians in church unconsciously find themselves keeping time with their feet, while their soul is uplifted by some great harmony. Not only is this true in cultured life, but the red men of Oregon have their scalp dances, and green-corn dances, and war dances. It is, therefore, no abstract question that you ask me—Is it right to dance?
The ancient fathers, aroused by the indecent dances of those days, gave emphatic evidence against any participation in the dance. St. Chrysostom says:—"The feet were not given for dancing, but to walk modestly; not to leap impudently like camels."
One of the dogmas of the ancient church reads: "A dance is the devil's possession; and he that entereth into a dance, entereth into his possession. The devil is the gate to the middle and to the end of the dance. As many passes as a man makes in dancing, so many passes doth he make to hell." Elsewhere, these old dogmas declare—"The woman that singeth in the dance is the princess of the devil; and those that answer are his clerks; and the beholders are his friends, and the music are his bellows, and the fiddlers are the ministers of the devil; for, as when hogs are strayed, if the hogs'-herd call one, all assemble together, so the devil calleth one woman to sing in the dance, or to play on some instrument, and presently all the dancers gather together."
This wholesale and indiscriminate denunciation grew out of the utter dissoluteness of those ancient plays. So great at one time was the offence to all decency, that the Roman Senate decreed the expulsion of all dancers and dancing-masters from Rome.
Yet we are not to discuss the customs of that day, but the customs of the present. We cannot let the fathers decide the question for us. Our reason, enlightened by the Bible, shall be the standard. I am not ready to excommunicate all those who lift their feet beyond a certain height. I would not visit our youth with a rigor of criticism that would put out all their ardor of soul. I do not believe that all the inhabitants of Wales, who used to step to the sound of the rustic pibcorn, went down to ruin. I would give to all of our youth the right to romp and play. God meant it, or he would not have surcharged our natures with such exuberance. If a mother join hands with her children, and while the eldest strikes the keys, fill all the house with the sound of agile feet, I see no harm. If a few friends, gathered in happy circle, conclude to cross and recross the room to the sound of the piano well played, I see no harm. I for a long while tried to see in it a harm, but I never could, and I probably never will. I would to God men kept young for a greater length of time. Never since my school-boy days have I loved so well as now the hilarities of life. What if we have felt heavy burdens, and suffered a multitude of hard knocks, is it any reason why we should stand in the path of those who, unstung by life's misfortunes, are exhilarated and full of glee?
God bless the young! They will have to live many a day if they want to hear me say one word to dampen their ardor or clip their wings, or to throw a cloud upon their life by telling them that it is hard, and dark, and doleful. It is no such thing. You will meet with many a trial; but, speaking from my own experience, let me tell you that you will be treated a great deal better than you deserve.
Let us not grudge to the young their joy. As we go further on in life, let us go with the remembrance that we have had our gleeful days. When old age frosts our locks, and stiffens our limbs, let us not block up the way, but say, "We had our good times: now let others have theirs." As our children come on, let us cheerfully give them our places. How glad will I be to let them have everything,—my house, my books, my place in society, my heritage! By the time we get old we will have had our way long enough. Then let our children come on and we'll have it their way. For thirty, forty, or fifty years, we have been drinking from the cup of life; and we ought not to complain if called to pass the cup along and let others take a drink.
But, while we have a right to the enjoyments of life, we never will countenance sinful indulgences. I here set forth a group of what might be called the dissipations of the ball-room. They swing an awful scythe of death. Are we to stand idly by, and let the work go on, lest in the rebuke we tread upon the long trail of some popular vanity? The whirlpool of the ball-room drags down the life, the beauty, and the moral worth of the city. In this whirlwind of imported silks goes out the life of many of our best families. Bodies and souls innumerable are annually consumed in this conflagration of ribbons.
This style of dissipation is the abettor of pride, the instigator of jealousy, the sacrificial altar of health, the defiler of the soul, the avenue of lust, and the curse of the town. The tread of this wild, intoxicating, heated midnight dance jars all the moral hearthstones of the city. The physical ruin is evident. What will become of those who work all day and dance all night? A few years will turn them out nervous, exhausted imbeciles. Those who have given up their midnights to spiced wines, and hot suppers, and ride home through winter's cold, unwrapped from the elements, will at last be recorded suicides.
There is but a short step from the ball-room to the grave-yard. There are consumptions and fierce neuralgias close on the track. Amid that glittering maze of ball-room splendors, diseases stand right and left, and balance and chain. A sepulchral breath floats up amid the perfume, and the froth of death's lip bubbles up in the champagne.
Many of our brightest homes are being sacrificed. There are families that have actually quit keeping house, and gone to boarding, that they may give themselves more exclusively to the higher duties of the ball-room. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, finding their highest enjoyment in the dance, bid farewell to books, to quiet culture, to all the amenities of home. The father will, after a while, go down into lower dissipations. The son will be tossed about in society, a nonentity. The daughter will elope with a French dancing-master. The mother, still trying to stay in the glitter, and by every art attempting to keep the color in her cheek, and the wrinkles off her brow, attempting, without any success, all the arts of the belle,—an old flirt, a poor, miserable butterfly without any wings.
If anything on the earth is beautiful to my eye, it is an aged woman; her hair floating back over the wrinkled brow, not frosted, but white with the blossoms of the tree of life; her voice tender with past memories, and her face a benediction. The children pull at grandmother's dress as she passes through the room, and almost pull her down in her weakness; yet she has nothing but a cake, or a candy, or a kind word for the little darlings. When she goes away from us there is a shadow on the table, a shadow on the hearth, and a shadow in the dwelling.
But if anything on earth is distressful to look at, it is an old woman ashamed of being old. What with paint and false hair, she is too much for my gravity. I laugh, even in church, when I see her coming. One of the worst looking birds I know of is a peacock after it has lost its feathers. I would not give one lock of my mother's gray hair for fifty thousand such caricatures of old age. The first time you find these faithful disciples of the ball-room diligently engaged and happy in the duties of the home circle, send me word, for I would go a great way to see such a phenomenon. These creatures have no home. Their children unwashed. Their furniture undusted. Their china closets disordered. The house a scene of confusion, misrule, cheerlessness, and dirt. One would think you might discover even amid the witcheries of the ball-room the sickening odors of the unswept, unventilated, and unclean domestic apartments.
These dissipations extinguish all love of usefulness. How could you expect one to be interested in the alleviations of the world's misery, while there is a question to be decided about the size of a glove or the shade of a pongee? How many of these men and women of the ball-room visit the poor, or help dress the wounds of a returned soldier in the hospital? When did the world ever see a perpetual dancer distributing tracts? Such persons are turned in upon themselves. And it is very poor pasture!
This gilded sphere is utterly bedwarfing to intellect and soul. This constant study of little things; this harassing anxiety about dress; this talk of fashionable infinitesimals; this shoe-pinched, hair-frizzled, fringe-spattered group—that simper and look askance at the mirrors and wonder, with infinity of interest, "how that one geranium leaf does look;" this shrivelling up of man's moral dignity, until it is no more observable with the naked eye; this taking of a woman's heart, that God meant should be filled with all amenities, and compressing it until all the fragrance, and simplicity, and artlessness are squeezed out of it; this inquisition of a small shoe; this agony of tight lacing; this wrapping up of mind and heart in a ruffle; this tumbling down of a soul that God meant for great upliftings!
I prophesy the spiritual ruin of all participators in this rivalry. Have the white, polished, glistening boards ever been the road to heaven? Who at the flash of those chandeliers hath kindled a torch for eternity? From the table spread at the close of that excited and besweated scene, who went home to say his prayers?
To many, alas! this life is a masquerade ball. As, at such entertainments, gentlemen and ladies appear in the dress of kings or queens, mountain bandits or clowns, and at the close of the dance throw off their disguises, so, in this dissipated life, all unclean passions move in mask. Across the floor they trip merrily. The lights sparkle along the wall, or drop from the ceiling—a very cohort of fire! The music charms. The diamonds glitter. The feet bound. Gemmed hands, stretched out, clasp gemmed hands. Dancing feet respond to dancing feet. Gleaming brow bends low to gleaming brow. On with the dance! Flash, and rustle, and laughter, and immeasurable merry-making! But the languor of death comes over the limbs, and blurs the sight. Lights lower! Floor hollow with sepulchral echo. Music saddens into a wail. Lights lower! The maskers can hardly now be seen. Flowers exchange their fragrance for a sickening odor, such as comes from garlands that have lain in vaults of cemeteries. Lights lower! Mists fill the room. Glasses rattle as though shaken by sullen thunder. Sighs seem caught among the curtains. Scarf falls from the shoulder of beauty,—a shroud! Lights lower! Over the slippery boards, in dance of death, glide jealousies, disappointments, lust, despair. Torn leaves and withered garlands only half hide the ulcered feet. The stench of smoking lamp-wicks almost quenched. Choking damps. Chilliness. Feet still. Hands folded. Eyes shut. Voices hushed.