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Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting




I never mounted the gang-plank of an oceangoing steamer with the same trepidation that I crossed the deck of the little yacht on a summer afternoon at the Battery. For one thing I was never, even during a mid-ocean storm, on such a wabbly boat. Every wash from passing craft made it shake like a bowlful of jelly. A sensitive nautical organism. But I was not afraid. It was just two o'clock, and two people were on board. Fifteen minutes later there were eleven first-class passengers, and at three o'clock we received our full complement and lifted anchor for a long and perilous cruise up the East River, through the Harlem, down the Hudson, better known hereabout as the North River, and then into snug harbour at the Battery.

Verily, thrilling prospects and hairbreadth 'scapes were ahead of us. I looked at the captain and crew; both seemed seaworthy. I noted the megaphone of the "lecturer," noted the position of the life-preservers, lighted a fresh cigar, and settled down in my uncomfortable seat to stare and stare and stare.

That fatally fascinating sky-line of lower Manhattan again set me to wondering whether it will ever assume the attribute of stability. The changeless change of New York is discouraging. The eternal characteristics of London or Boston, Vienna or Philadelphia find no counterpart in Gotham. It is but a few years ago and the Singer Building dominated the view from the Narrows; on the Jersey shore, with the City Investing Building it assumed the shape of some fantastic beast, all neck and head.

Now the denticulated battlements of the city cower beneath the terrifying height of the Woolworth Tower. The Municipal Building bulks largely, and already the new Equitable Building threatens to usurp the interest. The eye is caressed by the graceful lines of the Bankers Trust and that Titanic lighthouse on the Seamans' Institute at South Street and Coenties Slip serves as an admirable angle for the gaze to rest upon before it embraces the wide stretch of harbour.

For hours I could sit and compose and recompose — as the painters say — this extraordinary jumble of architectural styles. In the terrific chorus of steel and stone and glass every imaginable tune is chanted, from crazy Renaissance to sombre, savage Gothic, from perverted campaniles to drunken Baroque. The architecture of New York! It is a mad medley of pepper-boxes perched on cigar boxes set on end and pierced by sinister windows. In twilit tunnels beautiful churches are lost like stone needles in metallic haystacks. Consider Trinity Church!

Vain ornamentation that recalls sugar-coated cakes made for festive occasions finish off the spires of bizarre structures which might illustrate an Arabian Nights tale. The top of the Woolworth Tower — is that beautiful or trivial? The peak of the Metropolitan Tower — is that dignified or confectionery? And what of the Municipal Building roof, where curious turrets rob the tower of its meaning? There are no gargoyles in our architecture; the entire structure is usually a gargoyle. But imposing!

Just then the voice through the megaphone announced that Governor's Island was near by, and that the East River passage was about to be achieved. Every one chewed gum, but listened respectfully. The Barge Office faded into the middle distance, and a slight nostalgia overtook me. Here we call it homesickness. Anyhow, it wasn't seasickness, for, while the boat did rock in the wake of ferries and colliers, I experienced little discomfort. Possibly experience on the real ocean may have saved me, for, joking aside, our two rivers can kick up a bobbery when wind and tide are ill-tempered. Our mentor, who had the assured bearing of an actor doubled by a diplomat, was a little given to harping on the statuary of the Custom House. We were under the Brooklyn Bridge before he rather reluctantly let go the subject.

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