Posts Tagged ‘Asa Greene’

Traffic, rent, and dandies: the big gripes of 1837

February 18, 2013

Aglanceatnewyorkcover1About 176 years ago, newspaper editor Asa Greene published A Glance at New York, outlining the city’s problems.

Quotes from this curmudgeonly tome were reprinted in a 1946 New York Times article with the headline “New York Was Always Like This,” which pointed out that the gripes of 1837 are the same ones of 1946.

And no surprise, they’re same complaints we toss around today.

Traffic? It was just as bad in pre-Civil War New York as it is now. Green gave a bracing account of what it was like trying to cross Broadway, packed with “omnibuses, coaches, and other vehicles” (below, at St. Paul’s Chapel):


“To perform the feat with any degree of safety, you must button your coat tight about you, see that your shoes are secure at the heels, settle your hat firmly on your head, look up street and down street, at the self-same moment, to see what carts and carriages are upon you, and then run for your life.”

DandyRising rents? Green whinged about it, then came to the conclusion many New Yorkers hold today:

“Such an increase in the expense of living, if it do not cause absolute famine . . . will at least afford such discouragements and obstacles to the dwellers of New York that they will naturally turn their backs upon the city and seek a residence elsewhere.”

Finally, Green lobs insults at the hipsters of his era: the stylish men then known as dandies:

“Like other great cities, New York has her share of this class of the biped without feathers. . . . Our present dandies may be divided into three classes, namely chained dandies, switched dandies, and quizzing-glass dandies.”

“These are so distinguished, as the reader will readily conceive, from those harmless pieces of ornament which they severally wear about their persons or carry in their hands.”

“Their speech is exceedingly parrotlike, and mostly consists in the use of a single word, which is applied promiscuously to all sorts of articles. They are all ‘shuperb.'”