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With the World's Great Travellers, Volume 2

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The reflective voyager, on his first sight of New York, is baffled when he attempts to catalogue his sensations. All is so completely in contrast with the capitals of Europe. The gloriously bright sky, air that drinks like champagne, the resultant springiness of life and movement, that overdoes itself in excitement and premature exhaustion, and the obtrusively visible defects of this surface enthusiasm, monotonous streets, unfinished or unbegun city improvements, and the conspicuous lack of play-spaces for children—this is the rough portrait sketch New York draws of itself for the newcomer. It does not disguise the fact that money-making was for many years the dominant consideration. The city was laid out for business, and public comfort had to look out for itself. The workers, the poor, and the helpless were apparently overlooked.

But there are at least three New Yorks to explore. Old New York stretches from the bay up to once aristocratic Madison Square, and this is the section that first leaves its mark on the aforesaid visitor. Then comes new New York, the splendid modern metropolis that spreads from Central Park along the Hudson to the northern heights where the stately mausoleum of Grant, the transplanted Columbia University, and the great Cathedral-to-be add majestic dignity to the grandly picturesque panorama by the river. The antiquated brownstone wilderness of fashionable houses blossoms into white and gray and red clusters of mansions, richly varied in form and treatment, with the welcome grassy settings so pitifully missing in the older quarter. From a neglected span of prairie ground, pimpled with bare rocks and goat-sheltering shanties also shared by dago families, this section has in a few years qualified itself to rival the famous features of old-world cities. A nobler prospect than Riverside Drive alongside the mighty Hudson cannot be desired nor found. At last the city has discovered and worthily utilized its splendid opportunities. Then, thirdly, there is Greater New York. For the simplification of local government it is doubtless excellent policy for London and New York to lasso their humbler neighbor towns that the big cities may pose as suddenly greater than ever. The thing is done with a stroke of the pen and does not wound the pride of the newly scooped-in citizens, because the individuality of the suburban districts remains unchanged, but in our infantile capacity as mere sightseers the side-shows do not affect the glories of the ring proper. If this fashion of acquiring greatness continues, being inclusion rather than expansion, there need be no limit to the ciphers periodically tacked on to the population of the world’s swarming hives. Now that New York is growing, it might drop its insignificant borrowed name and assume its rightful one of dignity and historic import, Manhattan. It fills the twenty-two square miles between Harlem river, the Hudson, the East River, and the bay, which area is Manhattan Island. North of the Harlem it includes the district of the Bronx, a little stream which for half a mile or so affords as exquisite a picture of nature’s beauty as can be found anywhere. The drift from town to country homes is a sign of the times and an augury of great good to the coming generation, physical and patriotic. After all, bricks and mortar are not the making of a city. New York is at its best beyond the borders. Its rich citizens overflow into these northern suburbs and lordly estates, and across the East River into Brooklyn and Long Island’s garden villages, and across the Hudson into New Jersey’s charming towns, and down the bay to Staten Island. In no great metropolis this side of Constantinople is it so easy and inexpensive to slip quickly from the office or home and enjoy the bracing delights of a sail down the salt water (the upper bay has fourteen square miles and the lower over eighty) or up a stately river with all the charms of the Hudson....