Life on Broadway, continued

One of the Broadway Squad

One of the Broadway Squad.

at any hour, can still hear the reverberations of the traffic, which swell toward morning into a deafening roar, and continue without lull throughout the day. The procession is endless. When all the rest of the city is asleep, Broadway is awake, and looking through its vista between the two head-like strings of lamps, we still see some pedestrians plodding along on various missions of crime, industry, pleasure, or charity.

Whence come they, whither go they? asks Carlyle's German professor from his look-out tower. It is apparently the same crowd from day to day and from year to year; the faces are the same, and so are the passions shadowed in those faces. Individuality is subverted. If we stood under the portico of one of the hotels yesterday and watched the procession, we may stand there to-day and see it over again without detecting any great difference, its recurrence reminding us of the band on the wheel of a machine. But the individuality subverted in externals is strong enough in the minds of the crowd. When we apprehend that the least intellectual and the least important of the human beings who are passing before us has his own pet scheme of life, his own secrets, his own theories —that he is a veritable microcosm in himself— how profoundly significant the procession becomes!

Our point of view is not introspective, however, for it would be vain and aside from our purpose to attempt an unravelment of the psychological complexities underlying the faces of the throng. What we are after is the surface glow of the picture —the superficial episodes, the exhilarations of the traffic— the light and shade and the dramatic spirit of the thing. There is cheeriness, impetuosity, vehemence, and brilliancy in a Broadway crowd. We have said that London shows nothing to equal it, and Paris itself can hardly surpass it. It has a Champagne sparkle even in the parts where business is supreme; its tread is elastic, buoyant, and almost rhythmic, as it follows the rattle and roar of the vehicles; and that rattle and roar, made by the pressure of hundreds of wheels amid hoofs on a resonant pavement, are like the crescendo movement of a heroic symphony. Nervous people and people from the country can not enjoy it; it is bewildering, painfully so, to them; but the active citizen whose nerves are in good condition finds stimulation in the friction and the noise. Visions of Broadway and its throng have appeared to the writer in the mountain pine forests of the West, when the retrospect has added brilliancy to the well-remembered scenes, and it invariably leaves an indelibly vivid impression on the stranger, no matter how short his stay might be.

Let us stand near Trinity Church at about eleven o'clock on a fine morning, or, as a beginning, let us ascend the steeple. The

Page 3

Books & articles appearing here are modified adaptations
from a private collection of vintage books & magazines.
Reproduction of these pages is prohibited without written permission. © Laurel O'Donnell, 1996-2006.