Pride of city is natural to men, in all times, if they live or have lived in a metropolis noted for dignity or prowess. Cæsar boasted of his native Rome; the Law-giver Lycurgus of Sparta; Virgil of his native Andes [near Mantua, Italy]; the great orator, Demosthenes of Athens; the great mathematician, Archimedes of Syracuse; and Paul of Tarsus.
I should suspect a man of base-heartedness who carried about with him no feelings regarding 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.
When I see in history Argos, Rhodes, Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, and several other cities claiming Homer, I conclude that Homer behaved well everywhere he went. I think that is more of a tribute to the man than to the cities who claim him.
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 you did there, 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 in the Bronx [named for the family that owned it all] and Gowanus in Brooklyn [also a Dutch name meaning Lovely River]. 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 of New York 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 even though their name, New Amsterdam, has been forgot.
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 Beirut, 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 millionaires 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, [Whitechapel, England by the Magdalen Society of Philadelphia that was to house and help fallen women} where the lost ones of the street come to bathe the Savior’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, a golden sparkle, a crystalline chime, & says to hundreds of thousands of our population, in the authentic words of Him who made it—”I WILL: BE THOU CLEAN!”