By SADAKICHI HARTMANN.
WHAT strange part of the city have we strayed to? Are we really in New York, at the beginning of the twentieth century, or have we suddenly been conveyed to some European town of the medieval times? The sight that greets our eye reminds us indeed of the various descriptions which we have read of Italian Ghettos and the Judengassen of Prague and Amsterdam.
Everywhere Hebrew faces and Hebrew signs, and the incessant chatter of "Yiddish," the queer jargon of the street, which all Jews, no matter of what nationality, use in their daily life of bargaining, surrounds us on all sides.
No mistake, we are in Jewtown. No other part of the city bears such an outlandish aspect and is so overcrowded in its thoroughfares. The traffic is so dense that it threatens to reach the neighboring districts and inundate all New York.
Hucksters' and peddlers' carts and wagons along the curb form two rows of booths in the streets, and along the houses, beneath old shreds of awnings are two other rows, where the same perpetual marketing goes on. Marketing of a very peculiar order, for here everything has to be ridiculously cheap to find a buyer. The push-cart market in Hester and the adjoining side streets is like an ambulating department store, which restricts itself to a lively trade in damaged goods. It is an avalanche of eatables (reported as "not entirely unwholesome" by the Health Department), queer staples emptied on counters improvised on ash barrels, cases torn asunder and barrels turned upside down, with their contents poured on the sidewalks; bags of white and blue bed-tick a ' and loaves of bread in the shape of giant crullers bursting out of them. And everywhere women, young and old alike, with odd shawls and head coverings, rummage with both hands in the displayed wares and jabber about the quality, which is never beyond suspicion, and the price, which, no matter how low, is still too high. How they haggle about the fraction of a cent, how anxiously they figure and pluck at each purchase, even if it is only a bit of frowsy soup green.
To the Gentile, the aristocratic uptowner, the like a nightmare. It reminds him involuntarily of some cheap dining-room of vast dimensions, which being open night and day is still warm and greasy from the previous meal, its huge table cloth in the form of paving stones, covered with remnants and refuse. A restaurant, where the orders to clear away are never given, and where clean linen are unknown things.
And as a fitting background to this poverty and filth loom long rows of tenement houses, dusty brick walls with broken windows, shutters dangling on one hinge, and grimy fire escapes crowded with every sort of refuse. Each of these fire escapes is a rag shop in miniature. Bedding is being aired on the black railings. The family wash flutters gaily in the wind and forms a sort of canopy to that open-air lumber room. These are boxes which serve as impromptu ice-boxes, battered cook-pots and stewing pans used to make the Sabbath broth, faded rugs, heaps of rags, shapeless mattresses, on which two families may sleep at night, a lot -of objects without a name that have ceased to have either color or form, all, innumerable times washed by the rain, bleached in the sun, and again and again covered with the rising dust and dirt of the street.
Yes, life in Jewtown with its sunless backyards and dark alleyways, its damp cellars and ramshackle rooms, has at the first glance but little grace and few poetic charms. To the curious sightseer it appears doubly bold and materialistic. The pleasures are even scantier than its fare, as it needs must be with a community which has but one passion: that of thrift. The synagogues of Bayard street, where venerable-bearded men with quaint skull-caps and long skirted caftans worship as in the days of Israel, only add to the gloom.
Yet Jewtown, despite all its social shortcomings and hygienic disadvantages, has its esthetic side, which we, who know the Ghetto largely from Eliot's "Daniel Deronda" and Zangwill's "Children of the Ghetto,"' or from an accidental visit to Baxter or Ludlow streets, should not overlook.
The Hebrew quarter is undoubtedly the most Picturesque part of New York City, i. e., the one which would lend itself most easily to esthetic interpretation.
It overflows with suggestions. Its very dinginess and squalor render it interesting. For filth-as disagreeable as it is in actual contact-is the great harmonizer in the pictorial arts, the wizard who can render every scene and object-even the humblest one-picturesque. It generalizes each pictorial vision and takes out all discordant notes. Rembrandt realized this; each of his genre pictures is a glorification of human squalor, taken by the quivering rays of the supernatural light. And Raffaelli, whose paintings look as if drawn with colored chalks and stained with mud, has become the modern champion of pictorial dirt. He has accomplished with his suburban scenes, almost too realistic in their filth and povertystricken atmosphere, a feat similar to Zola, who never tired of delineating the seemy side of Parisian life, and whose fertile pen has transformed many a heap of refuse in a heap of roses.
Look at Whistler's Thames etchings. They will show you that a modern dwelling, clean and comfortable, can never have the same pictorial fascination as a ramshackle structure in some waste locality of the river frontage, the haunts of vagabondage and pauperism. Even an ordinary garbage dump with its heaps of shining tin cans, will convince us of the truth. It contains such a wealth of subtle values and warm color notes and varieties of texture, that it should send, not only painters but every person in search of the picturesque into ecstacies. The New York Ghetto is full of such pictorial incidents, and I know of no place which promises more artistic possibilities for out- of-door photography than this curious hive of human industry in the lower East-side.
The settings for a picture are ready at every moment of the day. They surround one on all sides. One never need to wish for a composition. The crowd takes care of that.
This is the true drama of life that is enacted here along the curbstones. Humorous and pathetic scenes follow each other in endless variety.
The army of peddlers, who have neither a stand nor a cart, but carry all their wares in a basket, or dangling over their shoulders, carelessly make their way through the hubbub of the crowd. How they ever get rid of their notions is a mystery. The competition is a most bitterone. They seem to move in brigades of half a dozen or more, and if one of them is on the verge of making a bargain, the other will cut his price until nearly all profit is gone. The suspender peddler, one of the most characteristic figures of Jewtown, in particular never seems to make a sale. There are so many of them and their article is an absolute luxury, for as Jacob A. Riis so aptly remarks: "The pants of Jewtown hang down with a common accord, as if they had never known the support of suspenders."
Everybody seems to peddle one thing or another in these thoroughfares. Even the womenfolk engage in the precarious business, and every bargain is sure to form an interesting group. Some dispense their wares from old tubs and peach baskets, -other perambulate whole dry goods stores in cast-off baby carriages. Space is at a premium in Jewtown. Almost every hallway, cellar, and alleyway has been turned into a shop. How picturesque are some of the second-hand stores and old clo' shops with their "pullers in," and above all else the antiquarian shops which are littered with brass and copper ware of every description. Nothing is so bad that it could not be turned to some use. Everywhere in the midst of overcrowded tenements, the same pushing, struggling, babbling, and shouting. No matter whether of Bulgarian, Roumanian, Russian, -or Polish origin, they can all understand each other. Their gesticulations alone seem to be sufficient for that.
And through this ceaseless traffic and clamor now and then men, groaning under heavy burdens of unsown garments, stagger along the sidewalk and disappear in the dark hallway of some Ludlow street tenement. They represent the dark side of Jewtown which neither legislation nor charity can altogether improve, but we have no time to follow them to the qualmy rooms of the sweatshops,-the pictures there are too dreary, and we are only in search of the picturesque.
What a chance to study types! One occasional visit would soon make us acquainted with the candle women, the instalment peddler, the Thora teacher, the Schatchen, and the Chasen (i. e. prayer leader), five types found nowhere on American ground save in the Ghetto. We would learn to differentiate between the orthodox Jews who still keep up the habit of owning three special sets of clothes, one for holidays, one for half holidays, and one for every day life, and the young bucks of Jewtown in their semi-fashionable dress who do not even hesitate to dive into a Gentile restaurant.
How impressive the old men look. Whole chapters of the Bible seem to be personified in them. They smile sadly, absent-mindedly into their long, white beards, as they sit on the curbstones; their lean hands folded across their knees. Frugality is their life's philosophy. They are attired in cast-off garments, picked up God knows where. Their favorite head covering seems to be the crowns of -old felt hats, out of which they have made skull caps by cutting off the brims.
The women also are interesting. What anatomical peculiarities and features of ethnological interest. The shriveled up old ones are hideous in their emaciation and disheveled hair, and resemble witches. Li fe is too strenuous in Jewtown to preserve the bloom of youth. Among the younger ones there are some who are very beautiful beneath their coating of filth, with the clove skin and large, soft, black eyes. They give themselves a coquettish appearance. With their colored petticoats, and shawls covering their shoulders, with their black hair plaited in thick tresses or looped up behind the ears, some have the grand air of Oriental queens, fallen to the very depths of penury. And the children-there is always a whole flock of them on the move. They overflow the streets and make a crowd wherever there is an empty spot. Their tatters beggar all description. Here a baby crawls about, dressed in an old chintz curtain, there a boy has a man's dress coat, from which the tails have been torn, flapping against his calves. And how dirty they are, one might mistake them for Florentine bronzes, those charming little figures of the Renaissance period.
Jewtown is a world in itself, and a world unknown to most of us. I believe it would be a grateful task to explore it. Very little has been done until now.
True enough, Jewtown has its own literature. The names of Peretz and Gordin are on every tongue. Sheikevitch was the Alexander Dumas of the Ghetto and wrote more than two hundred volumes. There is no lack of other talented writers. I only mention Sholem Aleichem, Seiffert, Biabeck, and the poets Rosenfeld, Reisen,
Winchevsky. But they write in Hebrew and Yiddish, and tell us but little of their own people. People who live in squalor do not wish to be reminded of it. For realistic glimpses of Jewtown we have to turn to the writings of Bernstein and Abraham Cahan, who hasgrown up in the milieu of the Tenth Ward. They have contributed a few charming episodes to our literature, but until now nothing of importance or of lasting value.
The artists, with the exception of a few illustrators, have run shy of these subjects, and the East-side art leagues, with localism as their aim, consist of too young an element who have shown much more than enthusiasm.
Perhaps the photographer will be the first to conquer their domain. He will any way be able to give us instantaneous fragments of life, but if rendered in their most concise aspects, they may after all reflect a good deal of the true character of the children of the Ghetto, who despite their lifelong hunt for wealth can boast of qualities which, with their warm breath of sympathy and spasms of joy, appeal to the recognition of every observer.
Hail thou, Friendship!
Earliest red of morning
Of my highest longing!
Seemed the path, the night, to me;
And all life
Hateful, without aim!
Now will I live doubly
That in thine eyeshave beheld
Victory and dawn,
Thou dearest Goddess!
GUSTAVE HERVÊ, the famous anti-militarist and editor of La Guerre Sociale, is now serving a four-year sentence at Clarveout, the prison wherein were, at one time, incarcerated Peter Kropotkin and jean Grave.
In taking leave from his comrades, Hervé wrote: "Though not as speedily as our impatience would have, we are nevertheless marching onward. This certainty should serve as a great impetus to all those who have retained their faith in, and enthusiasm for, a brighter future. I beg of my friends and comrades not to fret on my account. I feel strong enough to face, like Blanqui, thirtytwo years' imprisonment, if need be. Nor would that for one moment even cause me to look upon life from its unpleasant side, nor rob me of my unbounded faith in our ideal. I wish Briand as much peace of mind at the moment of his zenith as I shall enjoy in my cell. With a serene conscience prison life even is endurable."
L'Ere Nouvelle, which has been suspended for some time, is again being published by our indefatigable comrade, E. Armand. The issue just received contains, among other interesting contributions, translations from MOTHER EARTH articles by Bolton Hall, James F. Morton, Victor Robinson, and Sadakichi Hartmann.
Address: L'Ere Nouvelle, 29, rue de Recouvrance, Orleans, France.
The big and little tyrants of the Latin republics believe with the trustocrats -of Europe and America that brutal methods can suppress the increasing power of the workers' awakened consciousness. How stupid this belief is has recently been demonstrated in Argentine. As reported in MOTHER EARTH, several thousand workers were arrested and many more deported; a number of labor organizations were dissolved, and the Anarchist and Socialist publications suppressed. Yet the zeal and devotion of our Argentine comrades have remained undaunted. An antiAnarchist law has been passed, with the object of exterminating by severe punishment the "ringleaders." By the provisions of the new statute, the residence of Anarchists in the republic is rigorously interdicted. Representatives of navigation companies, captains, or agents who knowingly engage in the bringing of Anarchists to this country will be liable to heavy fine or imprisonment. Capital punishment is provided for those who are responsible for any Anarchistic movement resulting in death.
Since the overthrow of absolutism in Turkey, the labor movement has been growing tremendously. The weekly paper Ichtisch, which leans strongly toward revolutionary Socialism, contains several instructive articles about the condition of workers in factory and field; also biographies of Anarchists and Socialists: Bakunin, Proudhon, Blanqui, Lassalle, Fourile, and others.
The annual convention of the Anarchists of Germany has just closed, Twenty-three cities were represented by forty-five delegates.
The report of the committee on written and oral propaganda called forth considerable discussion, and resulted in the very commendable decision to avoid as much as possible all personal disputes in the press.
The congress further recommended that, in case of a national general strike-which the Social Democrats intend proclaiming as a demand for equal sufferage-the Anarchists should join as a matter of solidarity, though repudiating political action as a useless and injurious waste of energy.
The congress also recommends to Anarchists at large to actively participate -in the next International Anarchist Congress, to take place in 1911.
The Anarchist movement of Germany now publishes the following four organs: Der freie Arbeiter, Der Anarchist, Der Weckruf, and Der Socialist.
We recommend to the Yiddish-reading comrades the new monthly, Freie Gesellschaft, published at New York. The three numbers which have so far been issued contain good articles of theoretic and literary interest. Address: 30 Canal Street, New York. Price $1.00 per year.
LE CONCOURS POUR LE MONUMENT FRANCISCO FERRER. Bruxelles, Belgium.
HOMMAGE À FERRER. Emile Caudelier. Bruxelles, Belgium.
LE CRIME DE MONTJUICH. Alfred Naguet. Bruxelles, Belgium.
THE FAMOUS SPEECHES OF THE EIGHT CHICAGO ANARCHISTS IN COURT. Lucy E. Parsons, Chicago, Illinois.
ELEVEN BLIND LEADERS. B. H. Williams, New Castle, Pa.
AMEN. Lewis J. Duncan, Butte, Mont.
LE TRADIZIONI AMERICANE E L'ANARCHISMO. Voltairine de Cleyre. Sciarpa Nera Milano.
LIFE'S BEAUTIFUL BATTLE.-J. William Lloyd, Box 511, Westfield, N. J.
THE ETIOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT OF OUR CENSORSHIP OF SEX-LITERATURE.-Theodore Schroeder, New York.
THE HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION OF UNABRIDGED FREEDOM OF SPEECH.-Theodore Schroeder, New York.
A LOBBY FOR LIBERTY. Theodore Schroeder. Editorial Review Co., New York.
THE LEGEND OF THE HILLS. A play. Cleveland Rodgers, New York.
THE FREE PRESS PERSECUTION. Free Press Publishing Company, New Castle, Pa.
PACIFISME ET ANTIMILITARISME. Victor Dave. Petite Bibliothèque des "Hommes du Jour," Paris, France.
FERNAND PELLOUTIER. Victor Dave. Portraits d'Hier, Paris, France.
TYPES FROM CITY STREETS. Hutchins Hapgood. Funk & Wagnalls, New York.
I WELCOME DISORDER. Joseph A. Labadie. Detroit.
REFLEXIONS SUR L'INDIVIDUALISME. Manuel Devaldès "Le Libertaire," Paris, France.
THE FREE PRESS PERSECUTION. Free Press Publishing Company, Drawer 644, New Castle, Pa.