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Opening Ceremonies of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, May 24, 1883
by William C. Kingsley
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Two bridges lie near each other, across the historical stream of the Moldau, under the shadow of the ancient and haughty palace at Prague—the one the picturesque bridge of St. Nepomuk, patron of bridges throughout Bohemia, of massive stone, which occupied a century and a half in its erection, and was finished almost four centuries ago, with stately statues along its sides, with a superb monument at its end, sustaining symbolic and portrait figures; the other an iron suspension-bridge, built and finished in three years, a half century since, and singularly contrasting, in its lightness and grace, the sombre solidity of the first. It is impossible to look upon the two without feeling how distinctly the different ages to which they belong are indicated by them, and how the ceremonial and military character of the centuries that are past has been superseded by the rapid and practical spirit of commerce.

But the modern bridge is there a small one, and rests at the centre on an island and a pier. The structure before us, the largest of its class as yet in the world, in its swifter, more graceful, and more daring leap from bank to bank, across the tides of this arm of the sea, not only illustrates the bolder temper which is natural here, the readiness to attempt unparalleled works, the disdain of difficulties in unfaltering reliance on exact calculation, but, in the material out of which it is wrought, it shows the new supremacy of man over the metal which, in former time, he scarcely could use save for rude and coarse implements. The steel of the blades of Damascus or Toledo is not here needed; nor that of the chisel, the knife-blade, the watch-spring, or the surgical instrument. But the steel of the mediaeval lance-head or sabre was hardly finer than that which is here built into a Castle, which the sea cannot shake, whose binding cement the rains cannot loosen, and before whose undecaying parapets open fairer visions of island and town, of earth, water, and sky, than from any fortress along the Rhine. There is inexhaustible promise in the fact.

Of course, too, there is impressively before us—installed as on this fair and brilliant civic throne—that desire for swiftest intercommunication between towns and districts divided from each other, which belongs to our times, and which is to be an energetic, enduring, and salutary force in moulding the nation.

The years are not distant in which separated communities regarded each other with aversion and distrust, and the effort was mutual to raise barriers between them, not to unite them in closer alliance. Now, the traffic of one is vitally dependent on the industries of the other; the counting-room in the one has the factory or the warehouse tributary to it established in the other; and the demand is imperative that the two be linked, by all possible mechanisms, in a union as complete as if no chasm had opened between them. So these cities are henceforth united; and so all cities, which may minister to each other, are bound more and more in intimate combinations. Santa Fe, which soon celebrates the third of a millenium since its foundation, reaches out its connections toward the newest log-city in Washington Territory; and the oldest towns upon our seaboard find allies in those that have risen, like exhalations, along the Western lakes and rivers.

This mighty and symmetrical band before us seems to stand as the type of all that immeasurable communicating system which is more completely with every year to interlink cities, to confederate States, to make one country of our distributed imperial domain, and to weave its history into a vast, harmonious contexture, as messages fly instantaneously across it, and the rapid trains rush back and forth, like shuttles upon a mighty loom.

It is not fanciful, either, to feel that in all its history, and in what is peculiar in its constitution, it becomes a noble, visible symbol of that benign Peace amid which its towers and roadway have risen, and which, we trust, it may long continue to signalize and to share.

We may look at this moment on the site of the ship-yard from which, in March, 1862, twenty-one years ago, went forth the unmasted and raft-like "Monitor," with its flat decks, its low bulwarks, its guarded mechanism, its heavy armament, and its impenetrable revolving turret, to that near battle with the "Merrimac," on which, as it seemed to us at the time, the destiny of the nation was perilously poised. The material of which the ship was wrought was largely that which is built in beauty into this luxurious lofty fabric. But no contrast could be greater among the works of human genius than between the compact and rigid solidity into which the iron had there been forged and wedged and rammed, and these waving and graceful curves, swinging downward and up, almost like blossoming festooned vines along the perfumed Italian lanes; this alluring roadway, resting on towers which rise like those of ancient cathedrals; this lace-work of threads, interweaving their separate delicate strengths into the complex solidity of the whole.

The ship was for war, and the Bridge is for peace:—the product of it; almost, one might say, its express palpable emblem, in its harmony of proportions, its dainty elegance, its advantages for all, and its ample convenience. The deadly raft, floating level with waves, was related to this ethereal structure, whose finest curves are wrought in the strength of toughest steel. We could not have had this except for that unsightly craft, which at first refused to be steered, which bumped headlong against our piers, which almost sank while being towed to the field of its fame, and which, at last, when its mission was fulfilled, found its grave in the deep over whose waters, and near their line, its shattering lightnings had been shot. This structure will stand, we fondly trust, for generations to come, even for centuries, while metal and granite retain their coherence; not only emitting, when the wind surges or plays through its network, that aerial music of which it is the mighty harp, but representing to every eye the manifold bonds of interest and affection, of sympathy and purpose, of common political faith and hope, over and from whose mightier chords shall rise the living and unmatched harmonies of continental gladness and praise.

While no man, therefore, can measure in thought the vast processions—40,000,000 a year, it already is computed—which shall pass back and forth across this pathway, or shall pause on its summit to survey the vast and bright panorama, to greet the break of summer-morning, or watch the pageant of closing day, we may hope that the one use to which it never will need to be put is that of war; that the one tramp not to be heard on it is that of soldiers marching to battle; that the only wheels whose roll it shall not be called to echo are the wheels of the tumbrils of troops and artillery. Born of peace, and signifying peace, may its mission of peace be uninterrupted, till its strong towers and cables fall!

If such expectations shall be fulfilled, of mechanical invention ever advancing, of cities and States linked more closely, of beneficent peace assured to all, it is impossible to assign any limit to the coming expansion and opulence of these cities, or to the influence which they shall exert on the developing life of the country.

Cities have often, in other times, been created by war; as men were crowded together in them the better to escape the whirls of strife by which the unwalled districts were ravaged, or the more effectively to combine their force against threatening foes. And it is a striking suggestion of history that to the frightful ravages of the Huns—swarthy, ill-shaped, ferocious, destroying—may have been due the Great Wall of China, for the protection of its remote towns, as to them, on the other hand, was certainly due the foundation of Venice. The first inhabitants of what has been since that queenly city—along whose liquid and level streets the traveler passes, between palaces, churches, and fascinating squares, in constant delight—its first inhabitants fled before Attila, to the flooded lagoons which were afterward to blossom into the beauty of a consummate art. The fearful crash of blood and fire in which Aquileia and Padua fell smote Venice into existence.

But even the city thus born of war must afterward be built up by peace, when the strifes which had pushed it to its sudden beginning had died into the distant silence. The fishing industry, the manufacture of salt, the timid commerce, gradually expanding till it left the rivers and sought the sea, these, with other related industries, had made Venetian galleys known on the eastern Mediterranean before the immense rush of the crusades crowded tumultuously over its quays and many bridges. Its variety of industry, and its commercial connections, turned that vast movement into another source of wealth. It rose rapidly to that naval supremacy which enabled it to capture piratical vessels and wealthy galleons, to seize or sack Ionian cities, to storm Byzantium, and make the south of Greece its suburb. Its manufactures were multiplied. Its dockyards were thronged with busy workmen. Its palaces were crowded with precious and famous works of art, while themselves marvels of beauty. St. Mark's unfolded its magnificent loveliness above the great square. In the palace adjoining was the seat of a dominion at the time unsurpassed, and still brilliant in history; and it was in no fanciful or exaggerated pride that the Doge was wont yearly, on Ascension Day, to wed the Adriatic with a ring, as the bridegroom weds the bride.

Dreamlike as it seems, equally with Amsterdam, the larger and richer "Venice of the North," it was erected by hardy hands. The various works and arts of peace, with a prosperous commerce, were the real piles, sunken beneath the flashing surface, on which church and palace, piazza and arsenal, all arose. It was only when these unseen supports secretly failed that advancement ceased, and the horses of St. Mark at last were bridled. Not all the wars, with Genoa, Hungary, with Western Europe, the Greek Empire, or the Ottoman—not earthquake, plague, or conflagration, though by all it was smitten—overwhelmed the city whose place in Europe had been so distinguished. The decadence of enterprise, the growing discredit put upon industry, the final discovery by Vasco da Gama of the passage around the Cape of Good Hope, diverting traffic into new channels—these laid their silent and tightening grasp on the power of Venice, till

"the salt sea-weed Clung to the marble of her palaces,"

and the glory of the past was merged in a gloom which later centuries have not lightened. There is a lesson and a promise in the fact.

New York itself may almost be said to have sprung from war; as the vast excitements of the forty years' wrestle between Spain and its revolted provinces gave incentive, at least, to the settlement of New Netherland. But the city, since its real development was begun, has been almost wholly built up by peace; and the swiftness of its progress in our own time, which challenges parallel, shows what, if the ministry of this peace shall continue, may be looked for in the future.

When the Dutch traders raised their storehouse of logs on yonder untamed and desolate strand, perhaps as early as 1615; when the Walloons established their settlement on this side of the river, in 1624, at that "Walloons' Bay" which we still call the Wallabout; or when, later, in 1626, Manhattan Island, estimated to contain 22,000 acres, was purchased from the Indians for $24, paid in beads, buttons and trinkets, and the Block House was built, with cedar palisades, on the site of the Battery, it is, of course, commonplace to say that they who had come hither could scarcely have had the least conception of what a career they thus were commencing for two great cities. But it is not so wholly commonplace to say that those who saw this now wealthy and splendid New York a hundred years since, less conspicuous than Boston, far smaller than Philadelphia, with its first bank established in 1784, and not fully chartered till seven years later; with its first daily paper in 1785; its first ship in the Eastern trade returning in May of the same year; its first Directory published in 1786, and containing only 900 names; its Broadway extending only to St. Paul's; with the grounds about Reade street grazing-fields for cattle, and with ducks still shot in that Beekman's Swamp which the traffic in leather has since made famous: or those who saw it even fifty years ago, when its population was little more than one-third of the present population of this younger city; when its first Mayor had not been chosen by popular election; when gas had but lately been introduced, and the superseding of the primitive pumps by Croton water had not yet been projected—they, all, could hardly have imagined what already the city should have become: the recognized centre of the commerce of the Continent; one of the principal cities of the world.

So those who have lived in this city from childhood, and who hardly yet claim the dignities of age, could scarcely have conjectured, when looking on what Mr. Murphy recalled as the village of his youth, "a hamlet of a hundred houses," that it should have become, in our time, a city of nearly 70,000 dwelling houses, occupied by twice as many families; with a population, by the census rates, of little less than 700,000; with more than 150,000 children in its public and private schools; with 330 miles of paved streets, as many as last year in New York, and with more than 200 additional miles impatiently waiting to be paved; with 130 miles of street railway track, over which last year 88,000,000 of passengers were carried; with nearly 2,500 miles of telegraph and telephone wire knitting it together; with 35,000,000 of gallons of water, the best on the continent, to which 20,000,000 more are soon to be added, daily distributed in its houses, through 360 miles of pipe; with an aggregate value of real property exceeding certainly $400,000,000; with an annual tax levy of $6,500,000; with manufactures in it whose reported product in 1880 was $103,000,000; with a water-front, of pier, dock, basin, canal, already exceeding 25 miles, and not as yet half developed, at which lies shipping from all the world, more largely than at the piers of New York; and, finally, with what to most modern communities appears to flash as a costly but brilliant diamond necklace, a public debt, beginning now to diminish, it is true, but still approaching, in net amount, $37,500,000!

The child watches, in happy wonder, the swelling film of soapy water into whose iridescent globe he has blown the speck from the bowl of the pipe. But this amazing development around us is not of airy and vanishing films. It is solidly constructed, in marble and brick, in stone and iron, while the proportions to which it has swelled surpass precedent, and rebuke the timidity of the boldest prediction. But that which has built it has been simply the industry, manifold, constant, going on in these cities, to which peace offers incentive and room.

Their future advancement is to come in like manner: not through a prestige derived from their history; not by the gradual increments of their wealth, already collected; not by the riches which they invite to themselves from other cities and distant coasts; not even from their beautiful fortune of location; but by prosperous manufactures prosecuted in them; by the traffic which radiates over the country; by the foreign commerce which, in values increasing every year, seeks this harbor. Each railway whose rapid wheels roll hither, from East or West, from North or South, from the rocks of Newfoundland or the copper-deposits of Lake Superior, from the orange groves of Florida, the Louisiana bayous, the silver ridges of the West, the Golden Gate, gives its guaranty of growth to the still young metropolis. On the cotton fields of the South, and its sugar plantations; on coal mines, and iron mines; on the lakes which winter roofs with ice, and from which drips refreshing coolness through our summer; on fisheries, factories, wheat fields, pine forests; on meadows wealthy with grains or grass, and orchards bending beneath their burdens, this enlarging prosperity must be maintained; and on the steamships, and the telegraph lines, which interweave us with all the world. The swart miner must do his part for it; the ingenious workman, in whatever department; the ploughman in the field, and the fisherman on the banks; the man of science, putting Nature to the question; the laborer, with no other capital than his muscle; the sailor on the sea, wherever commerce opens its wings.

Our Arch of Triumph is, therefore, fitly this Bridge of Peace. Our Brandenburg Gate, bearing on its summit no car of military victory, is this great work of industrial skill. It stands, not, like the Arch famous at Milan, outside the city, but in the midst of these united and busy populations. And if the tranquil public order which it celebrates and prefigures shall continue as years proceed, not London itself, a century hence, will surpass the compass of this united city by the sea, in which all civilized nations of mankind have already their many representatives, and to which the world shall pay an increasing annual tribute.

And so the last suggestion comes, which the hour presents, and of which the time allows the expression.

It was not to an American mind alone that we owed the "Monitor," of which I have spoken, but also to one trained in Swedish schools, the Swedish army, and representing that brave nationality. It is not to a native American mind that the scheme of construction carried out in this Bridge is to be ascribed, but to one representing the German peoples, who, in such enriching and fruitful multitudes, have found here their home. American enterprise, American money, built them both. But the skill which devised, and much, no doubt, of the labor which wrought them, came from afar.

Local and particular as is the work, therefore, it represents that fellowship of the Nations which is more and more prominently a fact of our times, and which gives to these cities incessant augmentation. When, by and by, on yonder island the majestic French statue of Liberty shall stand, holding in its hand the radiant crown of electric flames, and answering by them to those as brilliant along this causeway, our beautiful bay will have taken what specially illuminates and adorns it from Central and from Western Europe. The distant lands from which oceans divide us, though we touch them each moment with the fingers of the telegraph, will have set this conspicuous double crown on the head of our harbor. The alliances of nations, the peace of the world, will seem to find illustrious prediction in such superb and novel regalia.

Friends, and Fellow-Citizens: Let us not forget that, in the growth of these cities, henceforth united, and destined ere long to be formally one, lies either a threat, or one of the conspicuous promises of the time.

Cities have always been powers in history. Athens educated Greece, as well as adorned it, while Corinth filled the throbbing and thirsty Hellenic veins with poisoned blood. The weight of Constantinople broke the Roman Empire asunder. The capture of the same magnificent city gave to the Turks their establishment in Europe for the following centuries. Even where they have not had such a commanding pre-eminence of location, the social, political, moral force proceeding from cities has been vigorous in impression, immense in extent. The passion of Paris, for a hundred years, has created or directed the sentiment of France. Berlin is more than the legislative or administrative centre of the German Empire. Even a government as autocratic as that of the Czar, in a country as undeveloped as Russia, has to consult the popular feeling of St. Petersburg or of Moscow.

In our nation, political power is widely distributed, and the largest or wealthiest commercial centre can have but its share. Great as is the weight of the aggregate vote in these henceforth compacted cities, the vote of the State will always overbear it. Amid the suffrages of the nation at large, it can only be reckoned as one of many consenting or conflicting factors. But the influence which constantly proceeds from these cities—on their journalism, not only, or on the issues of their book-presses, or on the multitudes going forth from them, but on the example presented by them of intellectual, social, religious life—this, for shadow and check, or for fine inspiration, is already of unlimited extent, of incalculable force. It must increase as they expand, and are lifted before the country to a new elevation.

A larger and a smaller sun are sometimes associated, astronomers tell us, to form a binary centre in the heavens, for what is, doubtless, an unseen system receiving from them impulse and light. On a scale not utterly insignificant, a parallel may be hereafter suggested in the relation of these combined cities to a part, at least, of our national system. Their attitude and action during the war—successfully closed under the gallant military leadership of men whom we gladly welcome and honor—were of vast advantage to the national cause. The moral, political, intellectual temper, which dominates in them, as years go on, will touch with beauty, or scar with scorching and baleful heats, extended regions. Their religious life, as it glows in intensity, or with a faint and failing lustre, will be repeated in answering image from the widening frontier. The beneficence which gives them grace and consecration, and which, as lately, they follow to the grave with universal benediction, or, on the other hand, the selfish ambitions which crowd and crush along their streets, intent only on accumulated wealth and its sumptuous display, or the glittering vices which they accept and set on high—these will make their impression on those who never cross the continent to our homes, to whom our journals are but names.

Surely, we should not go from this hour, which marks a new era in the history of these cities, and which points to their future indefinite expansion, without the purpose in each of us, that, so far forth as in us lies, with their increase in numbers, wealth, equipment, shall also proceed, with equal step, their progress in whatever is noblest and best in private and in public life; that all which sets humanity forward shall come in them to ampler endowment, more renowned exhibition: so that, linked together, as hereafter they must be, and seeing "the purple deepening in their robes of power," they may be always increasingly conscious of fulfilled obligation to the Nation and to God; may make the land, at whose magnificent gateway they stand, their constant debtor; and may contribute their mighty part toward that ultimate perfect Human Society for which the seer could find no image so meet or so majestic as that of a City, coming down from above, its stones laid with fair colors, its foundations with sapphires, its windows of agates, its gates of carbuncles, and all its borders of pleasant stones, with the sovereign promise resplendent above it,—

"And great shall be the Peace of thy children!"

THE END

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