International review (New York, N.Y. : 1874) — The International review (1)

The International Review (1)
Vol. I., No. I., New York, January, 1874

1. Article I.
Our Late Panic.

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In the rotunda of our Capitol hangs a striking picture. Above the spectator stands a dome admired even after seeing the grace and grandeur of St. Paul's and St. Peter's, while around are paintings, often crude, yet made sacred by great scenes and personages of our national history. Any work of art assigned such a place should display unusual genius. The picture in our view, although not destined to immortality, is a production, somewhat hasty, of a gentleman of promise. The canvas is immense. The colors are brilliant. The scene is imposing. You have, on a scale grand and impressive, trees, rocks, gorges, precipices, waterfalls, mountains. Congress, inspired by a sudden love of art, voted to suspend conspicuously in our Capitol a canyon of the Yellowstone.

We have become familiar with that river. It has been flowing for some years before the public eye. Dashing torrents, boiling springs, towering peaks, spouting streams, colored crags, with mists and rainbows—here a bear and there an indian—have so endeared and enhanced its wild region, that Congress, as has been rumored, not satisfied with the picture in the rotunda, may preserve the original as a treasure in the shape of a national park.

Assisted by letters, and lectures, and essays, and paintings, and advertisements, fancy sees the country of the Yellowstone crossed by a mighty Railway, having one terminus on Lake Superior and the other on the Pacific Ocean. Possibly even Mr. Hood, glittering with eternal [Page 2] snows, and looking down grandly and patronizingly, might be drawn by an excited eye within the horizon. The coming locomotive screams, and trains of cars, yet to be, rush through the valleys and wind along the precipices and hang on the tops of mountains. Farms and villages, rising before the imagination, line the way and give animation to the scene. On the shores of an unrivaled harbor, formed by the waters of Puget Sound, towers in airy vision a city superior to San Francisco, the rival of New York, Queen of our western coast, attracting the trade of Japan and China, and distributing over our country the rich and splendid wealth of the oriental world.

Surely here are scenes and prospects to excite the minds of a young and enterprising people. A Railway beginning at the inland seas of the north, passing through the marvels of the Yellowstone, terminating in a golden metropolis, and bringing near two oceans, is a work of importance and magnitude. So we have been informed. Nor can the proposition be doubted. It has been demonstrated to Europe and America by advertisement, by editorial, by epistle, by engraving, by picture. Statesmen have asserted it. Lecturers have illustrated it. Even clergymen have affirmed it. Never has such an army of talkers and writers been drilled and paid to settle any truth. Genius and money are exhausted. Neither snows nor savages shall defeat the stupendous project.

The scheme, it will be observed, does not propose to afford existing means of transportation for existing wealth to an existing city. It would create the means. In would create the wealth. It would create the city. It first obtains from the United States grants for a wilderness equal in size, it is said, to the whole of New England; it issues bonds on the security of untilled plains and boundless forests; it commences a work of gigantic construction; it connects itself with banks in the great commercial centres of Europe and America; it contracts enormous debts; it enters into competition with the General Government in the sale of lands; it endeavors to control the currents of immigration sweeping from the old world to the new. In short, it aims at once to found and to people an Empire.

Nor is this all. There is already in present operation a continuous line of Railway; toward the Pacific and enriched by the most generous gifts from Congress, and established by the most reckless expenditures; at this moment connecting San Francisco and New York; traversing the fertile fields and rich gold regions of California; at the Atlantic terminus owned by one of the strongest corporations, and under the patronage of one of the wealthiest individuals in the country; while yet [Page 3] the profits of the whole southwestern portion from the Missouri to the Golden Gate are thus far uncertain, the stock hopelessly depreciated, and the bonds low in the market.

But more still. There is also a stupendous Railway Connection, under a management vigorous, and ambitious beyond precedent, commencing in our great commercial metropolis; passing through the richest regions of Pennsylvania and Ohio; with one branch to Cincinnati, and one to Chicago; buying and leasing all possible tributary roads; and projecting a new and gigantic southern highway across Texas to the Pacific. It has already a line of ocean steamers to Europe, and controls or contemplates one to Asia. This overpowering corporation is reputed to own one hundred and sixteen millions of property. Its stockholders have within a year advanced it more than one-fourth that amount. Its projected improvements and extensions are estimated at a sum too startling to put into figures.

And while against such mighty rivals for the Pacific trade a northwestern communication is attempted from Lake Superior to Puget Sound through a wilderness, we must remember that there are other parts of our country comparatively near our own markets, abounding in mineral and agricultural resources, and lying undeveloped for want of Railways. Old Virginia is crying out for Railways. Even Illinois pleads for more Railways. The whole South is demanding Railways. The wealth that could be rendered available in the populated portions of our country by Railways is incalculable.

Now certainly the business of Railways is to carry. They are organized, incorporated, and intended to transport values. In America, however, their sphere has been indefinitely enlarged. They would populate the wilderness, invite immigration, construct harbors, navigate oceans, sell lands, speculate in iron-beds, and coal-fields, and oil-wells, nominate candidates, influence elections, use legislatures, govern Congress, seize, hold, and direct the operations of society and of government.

There is something grand in all this. The Railway King is a true monarch. He has his dependents, his revenues, his court, his palace—everything but throne, crown, sceptre, and pédigree. Nor is he unknown to the royal stock of Europe. The glitter of his power and of his pocket has sometimes dazzled both the old world and the new. He often goes abroad in a species of state, amid the smiles of his fellow kings and emperors, which after all, his republican countrymen at home are in some way paying for his luxuries and splendors.

Now that with all these magnificent plans of extensions and [Page 4] improvement and riches and power, the people at large should be dazzled, is not wonderful. The enterprise is so boundless, so brilliant, so fascinating! In every community there are persons of small means who want large returns, and are always ready for a tempting bait. This class too often includes those who are at once credulous, and dependent—the young, the aged, the ignorant. If the trap is only glittering, they are easily snared. But that shrewd men of business, with solid opportunities of investment, should put their money into gigantic phantoms is amazing. Where have the funds come from which so long inflated and floated this great northern bubble? We sadly fear, indeed, that widows and orphans have contributed their pennies. Laborers have risked their hard earnings. Lawyers, doctors, professors, especially clergymen, have been drawn into the venture. Even the hard-fisted farmer has been persuaded to turn his butter and eggs into the mortgage bonds, while abroad flourishing European tourists, who slept complacently on plethoric letters of credit, have waked in the morning to find themselves dunned and snubbed by shop-keepers, landlords, and servants whose pestering subserviency had been the day before despised.

With a mighty enterprise, appealing to the fancy, and the pocket, managed by an eminent financier—having a national reputation and deserving the national gratitude—sincerely honest, and wildly infatuated—and moving an enormous machinery of commercial and political influence, delusion among unsuspecting people was inevitable. But merchants, bankers, brokers, have been caught. Their deposits used for the purposes of the airy enterprise have been immense. Indeed, two continents have been helping sail our balloons.

Nearly all the financial countries of Europe have contributed to our American fever, and sometimes themselves burned with its delirious flames. They have loaned to us where they would not lend to each other . After repeated robberies they have almost begged to be robbed again. Often they seem to have reversed the old proverb about fire and fingers. They have obligingly turned their gold into our iron, and converted their securities into rolling stock, and considerately covered our Republic with highways for us and our posterity. Nay! they have even invested in our telegraphic lightning. Of course this proceeded from a pure generosity. There was no thought of large profits in the reckless transactions. Europe has resembled a rich old fellow amid his piles of money-bags, taking pleasure in giving some gay young rake his spare cash, and laughing at the rogue while he enjoyed it. [Page 5] Thus all the world together have been for years chasing some of the hugest delusions which ever burst in ruin over a nation.

We must remember, however, that the lack of confidence resulting in a catastrophe which has maddened Wall street, disturbed the country and indirectly affected all commercial nations, had its origin in causes even more remote than those indicated.

Our spirit of speculation began in the midst of our civil war, and our rush of extravagance with its close. While patriots were fighting, contractors were plundering. Fraud followed our Flag almost into the blaze of battles. Villains preyed on heroes. Not only the food and clothing and arms of our soldiers were means of amassing fortunes, but there were doubtless men who traded in the coffins and graves of patriots—making profit out of death itself. What was gained by cowardly rascality was squandered in ostentatious folly. Thus ever in war is the glory of victory strained by extortion and robbery.

Especially in our great commercial metropolis was a species of barbaric display and crime carried to the most extreme extravagance. The Erie venture—at once comic and tragic—ludicrous, grotesque and terrible—began in fraud, flourished on robbery, ended in murder. Justice was bought and sold in our streets. What ever equaled that systematic villainy which held by the throat the City and the State of New York, and supported by its plunderings men who with their ruffians and retainers kept a species of baronial state like that of some old feudal lord whose business was raid and battle? A debt of more than a hundred millions was piled upon our treasury, and the edifice to be erected and adorned, stands a yet unfinished monitor of our wrongs. The money taken from New York alone would make her piers and docks superior to those of Liverpool, and her harbor unrivaled in the world, rescuing from the waves wide magnificent avenues, surpassing London's on the Thames, and which could be lined with stately stores and shaded with noble trees for twenty miles along the North and East rivers.

Nor were the developments in our national legislature last winter specially fitted to promote public confidence. We would draw a curtain over the sad history, and drop a tear on some graves. It is not our province here to pass judgment on any member of Congress, living or dead, who ever drew a dollar on Credit Mobilier bonds. This much we venture. The investigations of the Committee, and the explanations of the accused certainly gave a shock to the faith of the American people in the purity and the manliness of statesmen who had been their trusted guides and leaders. Nor have they yet recovered [Page 6] from the blow. The frauds of New York, and the revelations of Washington have done their part in undermining the structure of a false system of credit whose wrecks are now scattered over our country.

And the elements themselves have been engaged in working their portion of the ruin. Fire and wind conspired together. First is scourged a young city, the type of our American enterprise, lying on a lake, penetrated by a river, with every provision of water modern skill could devise; and then an old city, which imagined itself fortified against the flames by all attainable expedients possible to the wealth and wisdom of mature age. In Chicago, in Boston, in Baltimore, and other places of our country, large and small, within two years, five hundred millions of property have been converted into smoke, ashes and ruins—wrecking individuals, embarrassing banks, breaking down insurance companies, and disturbing the course of trade in all sections of our Republic.

These are some of the events which, working together during years, have at last burst forth into the recent commercial earthquake whose convulsions, so widely felt, are yet heard in ominous rumblings beneath the surface of society.

There is a deeper cause we have hesitated to approach. Railway Kings are not wholly to blame. They have enough to bear without any unjust censures on majesty. Festering in our country is a national malady not to be cured by assaulting monopolies, or tinkering banks. Our Tweeds and our Fisks have not made all our trouble. They are only the plague-spots of a disease seated in our moral nature. With boundless confidence in the general character of our people, and the splendid future of our Republic, we yet know that our conscience as a nation has become blunted. Croaking is detestable to young America. Our emblem is not a raven but the eagle. Still it is just where faith in our stars is a power and a joy that we can dare to be honest, and to be manly.

We will appeal to facts every sensible citizen admits. Our ways of business are corrupt. A decline in honor is nearly universal. Let us begin with our great commercial centre, where adventurers from every part of our country and our world crowd to seek their fortunes, and where is found, therefore, concentrated and intensified, all that is best and worst in American life. Here merchants and bankers are necessarily the prevailing classes, and in no place on earth are they exposed to such temptations and perils.

A man owns a large house on the avenue, and occupies a princely store. The costs of living are enormous. If he invests nothing in pictures, [Page 7] statues, silks, jewelry, equipages, dinners, club-houses, yachts, racers, tours, and watering-places, and keeps within the circle of admitted comforts and conveniences, his pecuniary burdens are not inconsiderable. If he dashes into luxuries and ostentations, sooner or later, he is doomed. Competition is intense, merciless, murderous. Sharks charitably prefer other fish. Traders and brokers too often devour each other. They are goaded to frightful and unnatural exertions. All conceivable means are contrived to extend business. Clerks, runners, puffs, advertisements, rivalries, keep the whole establishment in a fever. It sometimes resembles a boiler hissing over white heat. When ordinary appliances fail, and trade languishes and ruin lowers, the merchant unites to his own the recklessness of the broker, and resorts to a speculation on Wall street. Here are many graves of worth and credit. Failure and dishonor follow desperate ventures, and the whole standard of morals is lowered, and the public conscience injured. The contagion of a bad example affects every boy in the store, and every man on the street, and spreads through all departments of trade, and all ramifications of society.

The temptation of the Banker is even more subtle and dangerous. He is in business not solely for himself. He guards a treasure made sacred by the rights of others. Often the living of the widow and the orphan is lying in his vaults. Helpless infancy and halting age are alike leaning on his honor. His bad faith may carry ruin into a hundred homes. Not only can he rob the poor, but wreck the most prosperous banking, manufacturing, and commercial enterprises. If he turn knave, the pulses of many a heart, and the wheels of many an establishment, may stand still. Would we could write his responsibility on his soul! He stands connected with all the avocations of business, the interests of society, the operations of government, and is a trustee of the reputation of his country. For him to touch a dollar entrusted by others, and use it even in speculation, is inevitable disaster. Indeed, he should be held accountable by the severest pains and penalties of the law for the administration of his office. If nothing else, visions of cells and striped jackets should hold back his fingers. Yet within a few years how many of our trustees of money have commenced with improper ventures in the use of funds they intended to replace, and ended with the pistol, the rope, and the river, spreading horror through the community, and impairing faith in human nature! Or if they have dared to continue a dishonored existence, the impunity of their crimes through the weakness of juries and the connivance of judges, has been more tainting than suicide itself. [Page 8]

But after all, the modern Monopolist stands on the top of the mountain of temptation. Towering over all the rest is the Railway King. Heaven help him not to tumble from the clouds over precipices into the chasms roaring beneath to receive him! His example moulds, directly and indirectly, thousands of dependents. If he rob, they will steal and pilfer. Little fishes are just as rapacious as whales, and in their proportion swallow as much. If the monarch be a plunderer, the subjects will follow the ways of the court, and the example of the crown. He controls a railway which is the only great thoroughfare for a state, or even a nation. His monopoly is his empire. A rival road would interfere with his royal privilege. A municipality stands in his way; a jury is to be gained over; a judge is to be secured; a legislature is to be influenced. His path is plain,—his agent is ready,—his inducements are overwhelming,—he himself need not to be known in a transaction, which one moment will finish in a nook of his library, or a recess of his office. Nothing more brief or simple, or concealed. A check to bearer is sufficient. We have no hesitation in saying that a name written to buy men does more to debase him who compels an unwilling pen to an unworthy purpose, and to corrupt all around him,—destroy credit, kill faith, poison society, injure the country, prejudice religion—than we can ever estimate in time, or in eternity.

It is often in these hidden and noiseless deeds we have the seeds of our panics. What is done secretly will appear openly. The closet will become the housetop. You cannot keep down the stream in the dark places of the earth. Your effort will make it flood. He who would stop the river must expect the deluge.

One law is unchangeable as Heaven. Corruptions make cowards, and cowards make panics. We can now interpret what we should have understood before. While the storm is on the world, we admire its power, and tremble before its majesty, but when the violence is expended, and the air is calm, and the sky clear, we can study the causes and principles of the agitation.

Let us honestly admit the truth, and manfully apply the remedy. The peril in our American life is dishonesty. This produces the lack of confidence which is the root of panics. Slavery involved us in the flames of a civil war. Better it should have burned us to ashes than we should survive to perish hereafter in corruptions. The urn is less offensive than the putrescence of the grave. Our very existence is at stake. American life presents an anomalous spectacle. We are socially pure and commercially depraved. Men who are upright [Page 9] in their neighborhood, and admirable in their homes, will habitually and knowingly, and systematically, do wrong in their business. Nay! even churches, to draw crowds, and rent pews, and raise revenues, will resort, not only to sensationalism in choir and pulpit, but make earth blush and heavens weep over tricks which are degrading, demoralizing, and insulting to all manliness and religion.

Nor is the malady confined only to men in distinguished position. It affects all classes of our Republic. The tainted streams on the summit percolate the entire mountain.

Of all the sins of humanity Bribery is perhaps the meanest. Most other crimes are possible to a single transgressor. Here there must be two parties to the guilt—the man who gives and the man who takes. Both are debased. There may be daring in robbery, and courage in murder. The peculiarity of Bribery is its cowardice. It sneaks, it cringes, it hides, it winds, it twists, it wriggles, it skulks. It is not a lion roaring, and rushing on its prey, but a serpent lurking in the grass to infuse its poison before crushing with its coils. A man who abuses his office, warps his judgment, and twists his conscience for a bribe, sells his soul by his act, and ever after lives expecting a higher bidder for himself; and he is like nitro-glycerine, dangerous to his purchaser.

Now it is a painful and mortifying fact, that nearly everything in our country has, in some way, directly or indirectly, been controlled by bribes. Mechanics, overseers, builders, contractors, architects, have been bribed. Clerks, merchants, bankers, have been bribed. Constables, policemen, collectors, inspectors, weighers, measurers, gaugers, postmasters, have been bribed. Lawyers, doctors, chemists, analysts, surgeons, witnesses, have been bribed. Judges, juries, legislators, governors have been bribed. We have sometimes feared that it would be difficult to place a stone, or a timber, or a lock, or a screw, or a nail in your house, that has not somewhere on its passage felt the stain of bribe. It is doubtful whether the food which supports our lives, or the coffins which will convey us to our graves, can wholly escape contamination. The consequence is, disturbed faith in each other, and sometimes a distrust of our country and our humanity, with a fear like a shadow, that on all modern European and American societies is but the old doom of ancient Babylon and Rome. One faith alone saves from despair. That is sufficient, but not here to be discussed.

Certain is it that panics and the other evils we have named, are but eruptions of disease on the surface of the body politic. Our [Page 10] nation from our civil war has been preparing for our recent commercial disasters. The timbers of the edifice of our public credit had been secretly decaying long before the weakened structure was threatened with its crash. Many underlying sands must be washed away to make the mountain fall.

Our best illustration of the whole subject is found in a ruin long slowly preparing, but fearfully precipitated by the dishonored bills of a single great financier. Just here, our argument and our appeal will be to men of business.

One of your number, after a few years of prosperous accumulation retires from Broadway, or from Wall Street, yet in his manly vigor, to expend his remaining activities in the cultivation of the earth. He buys a farm. The soil is rich, and the timber excellent, while iron and coal abound in a mountain near its centre. On either side is a noble river commanding the markets of the country. The owner, excited by visions of glittering wealth, and splendid improvement, begins to build roads between the streams bordering his land. Every thing is done by him on a liberal scale. His highways are level, hard, wide, convenient, admirable. He invests largely in horses and wagons. When his funds begin to fail, he inspires his neighbors with his own enthusiasm, and by appealing now to their fancies, and again to their pockets, contrives to obtain more than they can afford to lend, or he to borrow. After exhausting his money and his credit, he issue promises to pay secured by bond and mortgage on his houses, his lands, his vehicles, his everything. The whole community becomes involved, and at last he has nothing left to till his fields, or work his mines, but is driven to shifts and artifices to sustain his tottering ventures. Eventually a note is unpaid, his neighbors fail, the community is bankrupt, and while he sees around him noble avenues and superb vehicles, his scheme is a wreck, his farm lies undeveloped, and his labors and expenditures inure to the benefit of others. His mistake was that he invested too large a proportion of his capital in secondary means of transportation, and left too little to be employed in the primary production of value.

Now here is our vast national farm, with its boundless resources of soil and mine, lying between the two great oceans of the world, and in the best conceivable situation to command its markets. There is no sham in our location. There is no sham in our agricultural and mineral resources. There is no sham in our genius and in our enterprise. There is no sham in the lavish gifts of Heaven. There is a sham in all our commercial ways. We are in some respects warring [Page 11] against nature herself, and she is punishing our revolt, and our temerity. We have a treasure in population, and territory, and wealth, and institutions, never before committed to a people, and if we do not cultivate the bounty of the Almighty, it is because our race, by some inevitable law, is destined to destruction. We have recklessly diverted our capital from the creation of other essential values, and necessary channels of trade, and unnaturally, and disproportionately forced it into a few great highways of transportation. By anticipating the future, and building for posterity, these gigantic Railway Monopolies have absorbed the means required by many indispensable industries. The whole process has been carried forward by those unwholesome, and often corrupting methods which too much pervade our entire commercial and political life, but in the case of these particular corporations on a scale corresponding to their overshadowing influence and resources. The imposing and splendid structure shook in all its parts when the first great stone in its treacherous foundation was moved away from beneath its burdened pillars.

We must come back to first principles. The Railway should cease to live on stimulants. It has been petted and pampered and spoiled by expensive luxuries. Hereafter let it be content with the plain food of the land. Let it quit chasing speculations, navigating oceans, building empires, and piling structures into the clouds for the benefit of our grandchildren. It must come down to its homely work of digging earth, blasting rocks, laying tracks, buying rolling stock, and carrying coal and oil and cattle and bales and boxes and passengers. Never should it aspire to dwell in palaces, dress in purple and walk among kings. Let it be an honest servant of a democratic people, if not doing its work noiselessly, at least performing it faithfully.

And let all sensible people follow the good example! Let every citizen imitate every railway in attending to his own business, while he lives modestly, pays as he goes, helps his neighbor and is old-fashioned enough to love his country! Diamonds and dinners have too often overtaxed the brains and purses of merchants and bankers. We should indeed more and more cultivate art and music and poetry and history and science and philosophy. But books, statues, pictures, operas and clubs should never gratify the mind at the expense of the business. Americans frequently rob the store to furnish the house. The attractions of New York are not in the wharves and piers and harbor improvements and river edifices, which make her wealth, but too much along the splendid avenues where it is spent. Our social glitter hence is often tinsel. Trade-tricks and stock-gamblings [Page 12] will decrease just in proportion as we are wise in our families and true to the great laws by which the Almighty as surely controls society as he governs the universe. And such should be the purity and sensitiveness of conscience that every man who abuses a trust in business, or is guilty of any crime, should be marked and execrated. Guilt should be condemned by public opinion before it is convicted by juries, sentenced by judges, and consigned to the penitentiary, or punished on the gallows. In short, we must quit flying kites, sailing balloons and making life a sham, and descend to the rules of common sense and common honesty, and request our officials, state and national, including the President and his Cabinet, to encourage us in our honorable course.

While pursuing this subject, often has risen before us the image of the Great Financier whose fame fills the world. When a cloud of war covered his country he proved a friend. She required more than men and courage and patriotism. In her dark hours of peril a sum had to be raised so great that the enterprise seemed like piling a mountain of gold into the skies. A man was found equal to the task. The means were provided. The treasury was filled. The national credit was preserved. The army was supplied. Our Flag was triumphant.

After a success so brilliant it was not wonderful that so gifted a financier should seek, with the conclusion of the war, a field suitable to his developed activities. Before him rises the vision of a city on the Pacific, a peopled wilderness, a railway between two oceans controlling the trade of two continents. He if any man, sitting amid the bloom of his conservatories, and the splendors of his palace, can realize his dreams and wear the crown of a success so dazzling and so fascinating. But the achievement was beyond mortal power. A wilderness devoured all the fabulous sums that could be commanded. Even an appeal to Europe is unexpectedly vain. The phantom cries—`more gold!' It was like feeding a lean monster with a man's own flesh, and at last draining away his blood drop by drop to smear the hungry jaws. With the prospect of ruined credit and widespread disaster when a single bill was refused payment, we can imagine the agony as there passed from the bank to the wilderness deposits sacred as the tears of distress—sacred as the interests of patrons, and the rights of friends—sacred as the voice of conscience, the nobility of manhood, the character of our country, and the honor of our religion.

We are glad Europe declined sending more money for the benefit of speculators, and posterity. She is now like the old gentleman [Page 13] who sees the folly of his spendthrift boy. It is not desirable to take our Railways out of her pocket. She has already invested enough where the loss is all hers, and the gain is all ours. We have indeed, use for all the capital she can spare. But let her lend to us as she would to borrowers at home, and sharply examine our credit. She should send over commissioners who will not be dazzled by fine stories and fine dinners, and who will never recommend giving us a dollar but on the best security. When all the relations of Europe and America are on a basis of shrewd sense, sterling honesty, and reciprocal interest, the new world and the old will understand and esteem each other, and each particular nation will share an individual benefit. Then will mutual intercourse prove a mutual blessing. Notwithstanding the glaring and monstrous faults of our young Republic, they will eventually be known as mere excrescences, while beneath the surface—in the roots and the trunk of the social tree—will be detected the circulation of a deathless sap destined yet to be developed into a bloom and fruitage which will make our national character command universal respect and admiration.

One final word in regard to our great railway projects. Corrupt as they have often been, they have not always sprung from a mad love of gain. The vastness of our domain, the magnificence of our situation, the splendor of our resources, the glory of our constitution, the brilliance of promise in a country attracting all races to mingle the blood of our humanity, and promote its last development, so expand the minds, and color the imaginations of a young people, that their plans insensibly swell to gigantic and impossible proportions.

If our wildest enterprises were at this hour realized they would prove practically final failures.

Conceive a completed Railway from Puget Sound to New York Harbor! Let it erect a metropolis, and populate a wilderness! Let it build at its eastern terminus a line of steamers to Europe, and at its western, one to Asia, and succeed in controlling the trade of two continents! It has passed beyond its sphere and must pay the penalty of violated law. Oceanic transportation is one thing and inland transportation is another as different as the sea from the land. Such a monopoly would be unmanageable. From want of minute economic inspection at its extremities, and efficient superintendence from its centre, it would become loose and extravagant in all its operations. At last degenerating into a scheme of boundless official plunder, it would perish from its corruptions, strewing our country with its wrecks, and startling the world with its crash. [Page 14]

Not even the General Government could control interests so vast and so complicated. It seems plausible to consign to it a monopoly of Finance, and Railway and Telegraph. But there is a limit to human capacity; divisions of labor are essential. Our Republic can no more be a National Banker or Telegraph Operator or Railway King, than it can turn Religious Teacher and control the revenues and appointments of a State Establishment. Its sole sphere is to guard rights. In the multiplied processes of modern society, functions must be distributed, and financial difficulties will always result from undue stimulations of capital into any department, and from absurd attempts in great corporations to monopolize powers and enterprises which do not belong to them.

Out of our troubles will ensue benefit. The recklessness of Europe in making loans, and the extravagance of America in projecting plans, have covered our country with Railways. Where the enterprise fails in the present it will be resumed in the future. The money is not lost, nor are the schemes all air. They cover the earth with improvements which will realize brighter dreams to posterity than those which have given them their birth.

And in another way will come a blessing.

We all remember what an incubus was Slavery on our Republic. North and South shared, although unequally, the guilt. Europe derived an indirect profit, and sometimes upheld the system. Heaven at last took away the roots of the evil, distributing the punishment in proportion to the crime.

As slavery before the war, so since the war CORRUPTION has hung over our country like a cloud. The earth stood aghast before our frauds. A reckoning came. At our great commercial centre began the purgation, and the perpetrators of the wrongs, if not all punished, are at least exposed and execrated. Justice then passed over to our national capital, there to cut another tangled web of corruption. Since the two processes commenced, some of the actors have been stamped with infamy; some have been driven into social exile; one perished by a pistol; others died from mortification—all have been tortured by chagrin, or remorse, or despair.

The work will not stop. Individuals and monopolies will be sifted before all ends. No man and no corporation will stand where there is not beneath a basis of solid property and sterling integrity. We resemble those walking over a bridge crowded by rushing thousands who know the arches are trembling and the pillars tottering, and that any moment may tumble them into the abyss. Dreadful as is the [Page 15] catastrophe, there can be no security until it is over. When the present structure of our financial credit falls finally, it will be succeeded by a better built on honesty and wisdom. Our Republic is preparing by a discipline of suffering to fulfil that mission for humanity destined by Heaven.

To assist its sound and healthful development, and unite it more closely to the whole world, is the purpose of the International Review.

Again and again we have mentioned Europe and America. It is because they are so bound together that they cannot be discussed apart. Indeed all national life is a distribution from a common fountain. As Europe was derived from Asia, so America sprang from Europe. Civilization, beginning in the East, has moved towards the West, and must on our Pacific coast reach its necessary limit. To our Republic, across the two great oceans, are flowing all races, that, fusing, they may realize in types and image the dream of our humanity for its universal fellowship. Our immigration is now so diffusive that a throb here is felt everywhere. Perhaps, notwithstanding our youth, as we are thus closely united to the world, we are best fitted to represent it. Hence as we are more sensitive than any other people to influences from all parts of our globe, and as we seek aid from the more mature wisdom of the lands of our progenitors, it will not be deemed immodest, or improper, that on our new shores should be established an International Review which shall seize and fix and transmit the spirit of a new era where science, working with such plain agents as iron and copper and zinc and acids and water, is making tangible and visible by steam and electricity the vision of the poet, the aim of the philanthropist and the faith of the christian.

We will be pardoned in pausing for a moment to explain more fully the object of an enterprise so vast and so important.

The International Review, while published in America, calls Europe to share its work, and placing itself in sympathy with healthful progress everywhere, would furnish facts and arguments to the people by contributions from the best pens at home and abroad. It would have each country photographed by itself, and thus present a faithful picture of the world. Many eminent writers, as shown by its prospectus, have been already secured for its pages. It would interpret the spirit of nations and of the age in forms, always popular, never sensational. With reverence for christianity, and love for our constitution it would pierce every sham of church and state, and reach the solid truth, however hard the soil, or great the distance to [Page 16] be penetrated. It would ally itself closely with art, science, literature, and whatever pertains to the physical, social, political, or religious developments of the times. It would humbly seek truth, and boldly proclaim conviction, aiming to be manly and progressive, but never reckless. It would criticise books with fairness to the author, and fidelity to the public, and strive to elevate style while avoiding literary pretense and classic pedantry. It would discuss all principles and measures in a spirit large and noble. No party, no sect, no corporation shall buy its support, or influence its course.

The names of both the American and European writers of the International Review stand pledges to the country and the world that it has not been rashly undertaken. We hope it will not be feebly conducted.

2. Fires in American Cities.

[Page 17]

Among the most alarming features of our recent history—peculiar to this country—are the frequency and destructiveness of fires in our cities and larger towns. Leaving out the exceptional cases of Chicago and Boston, the daily record of fires embraces property estimated always by tens, often by hundreds of thousands, not rarely by millions of dollars. It is impossible to obtain statistics, or to make even approximate calculations; but we have little doubt that the tax paid to the fire-king has for the last three years exceeded the entire revenue of the United States. If we add to the property thus consumed, the losses by flood, storm and shipwreck, there may be reason to apprehend that the annual surplus products of our national industry are nearly or quite canceled by these casualties. It is certain, also, that fires have increased in frequency and extent much faster than the population and wealth of the cities devastated by them have grown,—a fact which, as to wealth, is concealed from general recognition, in part, by the large amount of ready money paid in insurance and thus sent into circulation after every great fire, and in part by the enhanced valuation almost always put upon the denuded sites which are a favorite arena of speculators in real estate. It is equally certain that, under seemingly like conditions, fires are less manageable than formerly; that is, that under the most favorable circumstances, a small fire is much more likely to grow into a large one, and a large one to outgrow the resources of human labor, skill and science. We propose to consider some of the causes of this condition of things, and to suggest such remedies as have presented themselves to our careful reflection. If our hints have in themselves no practical value, they may at least be of worth in leading wiser minds and more able pens to undertake the discussion of a subject of vital importance to the prosperity of our people.

We will first inquire how far our insurance system is answerable for the losses which it is designed to replace. We yield to none in admiration for the principle of insurance, and regard its establishment [Page 18] on a scientific basis, its efficiency, its extension to risks and contingencies of every description, as among the foremost achievements of modern civilization. It so distributes losses and calamities, else crushingly heavy, that no member of the community need feel their burden. It is like the conducting rod that draws harmless to the ground the thunderbolt full-fraught with death and ruin. But the rod may attract the bolt it discharges; and there is reason to fear that insurance multiplies the disasters which it neutralizes. No one who has examined the subject, can doubt that the number of preventable fires very far exceeds those, the causes of which could not have been foreseen and guarded against.

The instances are by no means few in which there is reason to believe that the owner of the property himself kindles the fire. This, from the very nature of the case, it is generally impossible to prove. Incendiarism almost always escapes detection; and it is especially easy for a man thus to work on his own premises, where he can choose his time, conceal his preparations, and arrange beforehand circumstantial evidence to avert suspicion. Meanwhile, his reputation is protected. His neighbors may think him guilty; but they dare not whisper the charge, which may lead to a suit for defamation and heavy damages,—a result which has repeatedly ensued on one's giving voice to the belief of an entire community, based too on amply sufficient grounds, though not on legally admissible evidence. Yet, unlawful though it be, it is right to think ill, and it ought to be lawful to speak ill, of any man who derives pecuniary benefit from the destruction of his property. If his building or goods be manifestly over-insured; if his stock has been suffered to decline without replenishment, or has become unsalable; if it is certain, beyond dispute, that by no other possible way he could have made his property so lucrative as by burning it,—then the entire burden of proof as to his innocence rests on him; and if he cannot show how the fire originated, the public has a right to regard him as its author. He has placed himself in a position which no honest and honorable man can occupy, and the presumption, therefore, is against him,—a presumption justly strengthened by any unusual circumstance in his conduct, even though it have in itself no evidential value.

Now there can be no question that by this criterion of judgment the cases of incendiarism by the owners of property burned have been very numerous, and that some of the most destructive conflagrations are to be traced to this cause. Such fires have commenced in the interior of the building,—often, we are told, where no light or fire [Page 19] could have lawfully been,—perhaps shortly after the proprietor is known to have left the premises,—perhaps after he had dismissed his assistants at an unusually early hour—sometimes, without involving the loss of certain valuables which by an unaccountable instinct the owner had for once been moved to put out of danger,—sometimes, at the hour of night when an alarm is the most tardily given,—sometimes, in broad daylight, yet with a rapidity of combustion inconceivable unless prearranged,—very often too,—it must be acknowledged in mitigation of judgment—under conditions of wind and weather unfavorable to the spreading of the flames, were it not that they, once kindled, create their own whirls and eddies of wind though there be a dead calm around.

Insurance renders many persons careless who could not be guilty of crime. Formerly—some of our readers have lived long enough to know—special and minute care of the fires was an essential part of the nightly routine in every house, shop and counting-room,—an office seldom left to a deputy, but performed by the master or mistress of the establishment. Careful inspection was made, first, with a light; in the best usage with a lantern; then without a light, with eyes and nostrils equally on the alert. If like care is exercised now, it must be only here and there by some worshiper of the past. Young America disdains the curfew rites. Meanwhile, the furnace, with its flues often liable to overheating, has replaced the broad screen-fenced hearth; explosive liquids or gases have superseded oil; while for the ancient flint and steel, from which only skilled and resolute hands could elicit a spark, we have the lucifer match, lying and thrown about in all sorts of place, ready to be ignited by a footfall, a mouse's tooth, or even the torrid sun-heat of a summer noon. Improvements all these undoubtedly are, if under intelligent and responsible custody and management; but the conscious security which insurance inspires has taken the place of vigilance precisely at the time when buildings can be made safe at no other price.

It is believed that, under shelter of an adequate insurance-policy, many persons who would indignantly spurn the thought of a criminal act, contentedly leave their buildings or heating apparatus in what they know to be an insecure condition, and postponing repairs or alterations of the necessity of which they are fully aware. `I am well insured, there's no need of haste,' is sometimes said, and is no doubt much oftener thought. Sometimes destruction by fire is openly proclaimed to be desirable. We have known even the trustees of a religious society to express the hope that their church-edifice would burn, adding [Page 20] `It is insured for as much as it is worth, and while it stands, it is impossible for the society to unite in building a new church.' Such wardens will not, indeed, light the match; but they will be slow to detect a flaw in furnace-flue or smoke-pipe, and the coldest Sunday in the following winter will probably number this desired catastrophe among the burnings of churches which every year signalize that day in our ecclesiastical annals.

All the crime and carelessness of which we have spoken may be traced, not indeed to the system of insurance, or to its avowed principles and rule, but to the absurdly reckless method of its administration. If only men of known probity and of careful habits could obtain insurance, and if their policies were voidable on proof of negligence or the lack of due precaution, the insurers would throw their influence on the side of public safety. But, practically, every man can secure insurance on all kinds of property, for its entire value or more, under whatever degree of exposure; and, in case of loss, unless the charge of incendiarism be proved against him beyond dispute, he can obtain, in remuneration, generally all that he claims, or if the claim be controverted, all that his books—which may be prepared for such a contingency—will show to have been consumed. Insurance stock is not, indeed, in the average of a long series of years, more productive than other stocks; but there are periods of ten or twelve successive years for which particular companies pay enormous dividends. Such prosperous seasons, together with the proclivity to gambling which makes many persons prefer hazardous to safe investments, multiply insurance companies beyond the spontaneous demand and actual need of the community. The business that would naturally come to them would be insufficient for the support of this growing number of separate corporations. They must therefore seek business and make it; and in the sharp competition that necessarily ensues, so far from waiting for the owner of property to apply for insurance as a benefit to him personally, the company seeks him out, follows him up, and will give him no rest until he has conferred upon it, or its more insinuating rival, the favor of his patronage. `Beggars cannot be choosers;' and by the mendicant position in which insurance companies have placed themselves, they have surrendered the privilege of selecting risks, imposing imperative conditions, and making searching scrutiny for the guidance of their operations.

The rivalry of which we speak is rendered the more keen and reckless by the appearance of mutual companies on the field. Let the stock-office [Page 21] reduce the rates even below the point of safety, there is a possibility, under the most favorable circumstances, of still cheaper insurance. If risks be widely scattered, a body of property-owners may be mutually insurers and insured for several years with very small assessments or none; and though such a body generally finds itself overtaken at length by a heavy assessment, the prospect of temporary immunity from payment frequently gives these companies the vantage-ground in competition, especially as the insured person has the ghost of a potential return-premium presented to his cupidity. The success of a mutual company, obviously, must depend on its transacting so large an amount of business, that the advanced payment on new premium-notes shall meet the current expenses and satisfy the petty losses which are constantly occurring.

Of course, the only assurance of a reasonably safe business for a company of either class is that its transactions be not concentrated, but distributed over a wide extent of territory, and not in great cities only, but in every region in which there is a town or village large enough to serve as a base for operation. Hence the necessity of employing in distant places agents whose contracts shall bind the company; otherwise the insurance of each city or district would be effected with its own local offices. Of course, a minute surveillance cannot be maintained by the directing board of each company,—especially when there are on the ground, in every considerable place, agents of trans-Atlantic companies, who—necessarily untrammeled—would procure the lion's share of the business, were not the agents of our domestic offices enabled to act with equal promptness, and with equal certainty of having their doings ratified.

We have, then, the insurance business, practically, in the hands of an army of several thousand agents of companies, stock and mutual, domestic and foreign, each of them obliged, in order to stand well with his employers, to keep up a brisk demand for new or renewed policies, and thus with very strong inducements to accept in behalf of his company, risks of every description. But this is not all. The agents are generally paid in proportion to the business they do, and the usual compensation is fifteen per cent of all the money received on policies. There is hardly any more lucrative employment than this for a man of smooth tongue and bland manners. There have been cases in which a single year's commissions have exceeded the combined salaries of the Supreme Bench of the United States. We have known instances in which a thousand dollars have been thus received—not to say earned—in a single week, and there are afloat stories [Page 22] which, if mythical, are yet typical, of a like sum pocketed in a single day. Now if these agents are all rigidly honest men, it is too much to suppose them all so clear-sighted and so thoroughly purged from unconscious reference to their own interest, as to look with judicial strictness and severity at every risk that is offered them. It is not conceivable that a man who means to do right, in his complaisance for the man who has the good sense to single him out from his brother-agents, and in his unwillingness to lose what in any other industry he could earn only by a week's labor, should really believe his client's building, goods or operations safer than they appear to the rest of the community? This unconscious leaning in the direction in which their gain lies is the heaviest charge that we would make against insurance agents as a class; for we have no doubt that this profession has its full quota of conscientious and honorable men. But there are among them some who are manifestly unscrupulous, and a very few such would suffice to account for numberless fires that ought not to take place. Persons who have had their property burned more than once, under suspicious circumstances, can still obtain insurance, and we have yet to learn that there is a person, whatever his character, or however perilous his business, who has been everywhere rejected. Nay, we doubt whether there exists an owner of uninsured property, who has not repeatedly encountered the importunate solicitations of insurance agents. Indeed, there is something weird, almost preternatural, in the clairvoyance by which these agents know when one's policy is about expiring, or divine the list of potential clients for their services on the dissolution or bankruptcy of a company.

It is perfectly evident that fires cannot diminish in frequency so long as this system remains unchecked. The first movement of reform should be directed toward the agencies. The stimulus to unscrupulous temerity in the risks admitted to insurance should be checked, by legislation, if necessary, but rather, were it possible, by the general demand of good citizens. Let the agents have a stated compensation, fully equal to what they would receive for services of like skill and responsibility in a bank or a financial bureau of any kind. If this compensation be increased from time to time, let it be on the ground, mot of the amount of business done, but of the prudence, integrity and fidelity with which it is transacted. Let each be expected to do his share of the safe business in and around his place of residence, and to keep himself and his employers well [Page 23] informed as to the condition of the property which has their guaranty. Let it be regarded as a merit in him to refuse a doubtful risk, and to make the insured person, as he really is, the obliged party of the two. By this method the profits of the companies would be largely increased, and their stability to a great degree secured; for not only do the risks that would be declined on prudential grounds occasion a very large proportion of the losses which insurers must pay, but the initiation of such a line of policy by the insurers could not fail to impose added caution on the insured, and to make the public intolerant of dangerous buildings and neighbors. Even now, it may be doubted whether there be a community which would not regard a building or business—not isolated—for which insurance could not be obtained, a nuisance to be immediately abated.

There should be, in the next place, in the legal provisions connected with insurance, an inevitable penalty on carelessness, which, however free from bad intent, is always blameworthy, and merits at least a pecuniary mulct. We doubt whether it would be well to go the full length of the French law, which deprives of indemnity the person on whose premises a fire originates. Such a provision would undoubtedly prevent half of our fires; but with us it would leave some very hard cases, while in France fires are of infrequent occurrence, and are commonly extinguished with slight damage, so that insurance is sought mainly with reference to the rare contingency of an extensive conflagration. But would any essential wrong be done, were the person on whose premises a fire commenced permitted to recover not more than two-thirds of the value of the property consumed? An exception might be made in cases in which it could be clearly proved that the fire originated from a cause that could not have been foreseen and prevented: but the presumption should be of carelessness in the absence of express evidence to the contrary. The negligence or folly of employés or servants should not be accepted as a plea in abatement of the penalty. In all other matters a man is responsible for the mistakes and failures of those in his service, and this rule is founded in equity; for in whatever may compromise the well-being of those around him a man is bound to exercise personal circumspection and vigilance, unless he can delegate his charge to safe agents. When a servant of well-known stupidity and shiftlessness, who would not be entrusted with the delivery of a message or the removal of a porcelain vase, crams a stove or furnace with fuel, and so opens or closes drafts or registers as to make the combustion [Page 24] of the nearest woodwork inevitable, the blame belongs wholly to the master or mistress, who is no more justified in committing heating apparatus to the charge of a dolt or a fool than in giving loaded firearms to the keeping of an infant or an idiot.

There is yet another responsibility which rests, if not on the insurers, on the legislatures in which the competent authority resides,—that of a judicial inquiry as to the cause of each specific conflagration, and the publication of the results of such inquiry. There are, indeed, cases in which the origin of a fire cannot be traced, or even imagined; but there are many more in which it would be easy to substantiate facts that would suggest a probable solution, and to the authentic materials for such a solution the endangered public has a right. This procedure would arrest groundless suspicion of criminality on the part of the owner of the property consumed; for unless he would be a gainer by its destruction, no one would suppose him guilty. But if he be over insured, the fact ought to be made public under official sanction, even though in every other respect his character for integrity be unimpeached.

A further benefit which would result from such inquiry would be the publicity thus given to culpable, though not criminal, carelessness. The architect, the carpenter, the mason, the adjuster of stoves, furnaces and funnels, to whose inadvertency or rashness a disastrous fire is chargeable, might thus be advertised as unworthy of confidence, and the numberless makeshifts that take the place of sincere and honest work would in this way be superseded by the very same selfish considerations to which they owe their existence. Artificers, in their respective departments of building, would expect to secure reputation, and the consequent profit, only by rigid and thorough fidelity.

We are aware that in several States fire-inquests may be held if the individual most nearly concerned, or the local authorities, take the needed preliminary steps. But what is to be desired is a permanent tribunal, competent for and charged with this express duty, and legally bound to perform it in every case of sufficient magnitude to demand or authorize investigation. Unless judicial inquiry be a matter of course, it will be omitted in many cases when it would be of especial service whether in removing or confirming such suspicions as are often rife, and sometimes without substantial ground.

We would now speak of the methods of dealing with fires. Here the all-important element is time. We are almost always [Page 25] told, with reference to a great conflagration, that when first discovered, it might have been extinguished with a bucket or two of water. But the person who makes the discovery, instead of seeking the water, raises the alarm, and he and such bystanders as may join him, wait passively for the advent of the fire-department, just as in a case of sudden death it used to be thought necessary to suspend all offices of humanity till the arrival of the coroner. The fire, however, does not wait, but spreads in a geometrical ratio corresponding to the arithmetical increments of time, and when the expected aid arrives, has passed beyond control. This is prone to be the case when the officials are alert and prompt. But there is always danger of needless delay. Sometimes the nearest engine with its custodians is gracing a civic procession, or, it may be, on exhibition at a firemen's parade fifty miles away. Sometimes a dispute between two rival engine companies must be settled or compromised, before either will do its work. Seldom, however, has there been a degree of fatuity to be compared with that which was the proximate cause of the great Boston fire of 1872. One would have thought that, had there remained a score of undiseased horses in such a city, they should have been impressed and kept in hand for the use of the fire-department. But on that ill-starred Saturday the stress of the horse-disease had been overpassed, the running of the street cars had been resumed, the convalescents far outnumbered the still diseased in all the stables; yet men were employed by the fire-department instead of horses, and so slow and tardy were they under the yoke, that an engine had arrived from Worcester before the remotest of the Boston engines reached the scene of action.

Then again, though in theory a steam fire-engine can be brought into play with great expedition, there are various practical hindrances which may occasion a fatal delay. In a narrow street or court it may be difficult to find an advantageous position for the engine, and if so, the requisite adjustment of the hose may be a slow and precarious operation, especially if, as was the case at the Boston fire, the department has not the paramount right of way, and reckless draymen—stimulated by exorbitant prices—have free license to drive over the hose and intercept the movements of the firemen. The steam-engine, too, is a rapid consumer, and must have not only a full supply, but an unintermitted flow of water, in order to attain its entire capacity of service; while not only blamable negligence, but circumstances that could not be foreseen or prevented may, at a particular time or place, render reservoirs, hydrants or service-pipes inadequate to the emergency,— [Page 26] a condition of things tenfold more likely to occur from the fact that the fire and water departments are under the control of separate boards, the former having no immediate authority over the latter.

Another element of danger is to be found in the constitution of the fire-department in most of our large cities. The chief engineer or head of the department is generally chosen every year by the city council, and is often elected or removed on grounds entirely independent of his qualifications for the office. The best man that could be chosen is liable to be displaced by a change of national parties in the municipal government, and it is perfectly possible for an unscrupulous party fugleman to obtain the place, if he belong to that pestilential class of paupers that depend on the public crib for their subsistence. We have personally known an instance in which the sole assignable reason for ousting a competent chief engineer was that he had had a negro or mulatto grandfather, and that the examination of his features by strong gaslight revealed traces of his African ancestry. The firemen, too, are seldom of the class of men who are likely to combine prudence, skill, strength and persistency to the degree that seems desirable. Except in the city of New York, they are inadequately paid, and consequently cannot be recruited from the class of persons who are able and willing to give the best work for an ample and generous compensation. The deficit of wages is made up by the attractions of the engine-house, the opportunity for associations of a somewhat festive character, the convivial occasions growing out of such intercourse, the eclat of public exhibitions, and the excitement of professional excursions, receptions, parades and entertainments. This supplementary payment invites precisely the sort of persons who can best afford to be firemen, namely, young men with no definite trade or occupation, with a strong love for frolic and adventure, without family ties, in fine, such as live mainly for and in the fresh experience of the passing hour,—Bohemians, if we may use the term where neither art nor literature forms a part of its meaning. We would not say a word in reproach of those engaged in this service. We cannot forget the numerous instances of heroic daring and generous self-sacrifice which have often made their ranks illustrious. But a higher rate of payment might secure men trained and hardened by labor and exposure, while much more than the added compensation which such men would claim is now consumed in the ornamental and festive accessories of the department, which they should not need nor crave.

Fifty years ago, even in our large cities, every man was a fireman. In the towns and cities of New England, and probably in all the [Page 27] Northern States, every householder was obliged, under penalties rigidly enforced, to keep certain buckets, bags and other apparatus in readiness or use, and the able-bodied man or boy who failed to obey the first summons of the alarm bell, and to work to the best of his ability till the fire was over, would have utterly lost caste. Every man and boy then understood the importance of pouring water on a fire the moment it was discovered, instead of waiting for the unrolling of sundry yards of red tape. The hand engines then in use were manned by volunteer companies which had not yet begun to be demoralized, and consisted, for the most part, of robust and energetic young men; while there were among the elder citizens fire-companies whose members were pledged to active service on all occasions of need, and to special obligations of mutual aid, protection or relief in case of danger or loss within their own body. The office of fireward, corresponding to that of the chief engineer and his staff, being without fee or salary, was generally conferred by vote on the very men whose presence of mind, alertness, vigor, and power of command could be relied on with the fullest confidence; by law they were invested with large discretionary authority; and by universal consent they exercised when on active duty an absolute dictatorship.

It would be difficult to determine the merit of this method as compared with the present, even if we had the most thorough and minute statistical data; for there have been changes both in the style of building and in the modes of water-supply which essentially affect the subject in all its bearings. Early in the present century there were very few buildings that had more than four stories above the basement; while now the inaccessibleness and often the superior combustibility of the upper stories constitute a chief cause of peril. But then, on the other hand, there were, in all the larger municipalities, many districts as densely covered with buildings as at the present time, and with wooden buildings which are now replaced by brick. Those of us who were conversant with earlier times can well remember the promptness with which workers of every condition and age resorted to the scene of danger at the earliest moment, the frequency with which fires of the most threatening aspect were quenched with slight damage, and the desperate and successful hand-to-hand struggles with the flames when they seemed to have all the odds in their favor. There were, to be sure, some frightful conflagrations, which swept through the entire length or breadth of a town, and were arrested only when there was no more fuel in their track. But these occurred, with hardly an exception, in the dead of winter, when wells and [Page 28] cisterns, if not frozen, could not be freely drawn from; and it is impossible to say how far, with the present water-supply, the former modes of working might now be successful, even in the worst cases. Certain it is that fires did not formerly grow so frequently as now into unmanageable dimensions, with every element wind, temperature and water-supply favorable to their suppression.

We by no means question the eminent usefulness, nay, the necessity, of the powerful steam-engines which have monopolized the work of the fire-departments in our larger cities, and are fast superseding other apparatus in our thriving towns and villages. They alone can fully utilize the existing sources of water-supply; they alone (and they not always) can throw an efficient stream upon the roofs or into the upper stories of the highest buildings; and they can keep up the show and sustain the hope of resistance when no feebler agency would be worth the labor of working it. But what is more needed than anything else is the multiplication, and, if possible, the thorough organization, of methods analogous to those formerly in use, to which resort may be had at the first moment of known danger, and pending the necessarily slower movements of more complex apparatus. There are engines, adapted to domestic service, so simple as to require no special training for their use, so easy of working as not to exceed a child's strength, so cheap as to be within the purchasing power of every householder, so efficient that they have often checked rapidly spreading flames among the most combustible materials. These could be purchased by the hundred or thousand, and deposited in shops, warehouses, and dwellings of the better sort, throughout a city or town, at a less amount of expense from the municipal treasury than is often wasted in a needless pageant or a civic feast. Perhaps, however, the same purpose could be better effected through the insurance companies. It would be a wise economy for them to give engines of this description to their policy-holders, or to make a stated deduction from their charge for insurance on the condition of the purchasing of such an engine, and keeping it—subject to periodical inspection—in working order. The educational influence of such an article of furniture would be of no little worth. There would be not a child whose curiosity would not be stimulated by it, or who would not be ambitious to experiment with it and learn its use. The contingency of [Page 29] peril by fire, the first steps to be taken in case of such peril, the necessity of prompt action, the folly and mischief of trepidation and terror in view of a calamity so easily preventable, would be matters of familiar conversation and discussion, and the family would become unconsciously organized as a fire-company, ready at need for efficient service. This domestic discipline would be greatly aided by the distribution from time to time, under proper authority, of printed directions as to the measures to be taken by day, by night, and under the different aspects in which danger by fire may present itself.

In every shop, warehouse, or manufactory where many persons are employed, there ought to be an organization for defense against fire, with suitable apparatus, occasional drills, and a specific post or service assigned to each member in case of an alarm. By this method even a seemingly irresistible fire might often be kept at bay without any outside aid. What private energy can effect was witnessed in the case of the great dry-goods store of C. F. Hovey & Co., in the Boston fire of 1872. The building was surrounded by flames for many hours, and was not only believed and reported to have been burned, but was so situated that the fact of its having remained uninjured, when first reported, was discredited as utterly impossible. The fire-department did not regard the chance of saving it as worth their serious effort. But the then present, with not a few of the past, employés of the firm—urged, indeed, by strong sentiments of affection and gratitude, sentiments for which, in like case, good reason ought never to be wanting—resorted at once to the imperiled building, and covered the roof and all exposed portions of the walls with blankets, shawls, and cloths, which they contrived to keep constantly wet, though they had to bring all the water from the cellar and even there would get only a languid and intermittent stream. Since that time the employés of the establishment have been regularly organized with a full supply of available apparatus, and other large firms of Boston have taken the same course. Should this plan be generally adopted, it will be hardly possible for the destroying element to spread unchecked, as it has so often, in the very heart of a city's wealth and commerce.

Yet while we would attach the highest importance to these private measures of protection and defense, the ultimate dependence must be on the municipal fire-department, and with reference to this there are two or three points that need to be urged as of essential moment. In a large city, the head of the department should be such a man as only by the rarest of chances could obtain or would accept the office at the [Page 30] hands of a city council, by an annual election. He should be such a man as would be eligible for those few highest trusts which demand in equal and generous measure science, skill, tact, prudence, energy and integrity,—such a man as might be entrusted with the command of an army, or the construction of a new bureau of national administration. He should have, we will not say as high a compensation as many insurance agents get for multiplying fires, but three or four times what any of them can fairly earn,—a salary adequate to procure the services of the best talent in the land, and so large that the incumbent could not resign his office for one more lucrative. He should be not elected, but appointed by the Governor of the State, and by him only with the approval of the State Board of Public Works, if there be one, or of whatever board might be most fit for consultation in such a matter. He should be removable only for proved malfeasance or incompetency, with perhaps a limit of age. He should have an assistant of similar capacity, and with a correspondingly large salary, who should take the place of the chief during any temporary absence or inability, at other times serving under him, and who should be, by virtue of his appointment, the successor of his chief on the death, resignation, or removal of the latter, so that the office might never for a single day be vacant, or be filled by a novice. The chief, thus qualified and appointed, should have the supervision of the entire department, the power of removing any of its members for sufficient cause, absolute command, for the time being, within the premises endangered by fire, or to be occupied, used, or cleared for the purpose of arresting it, and even the right, in stress of need, of confiscating property for the public safety,—not, of course, without accountability—but amenable for alleged official misconduct or violation of law, to no lower tribunal than the highest of the State Courts. In fine, there is in the management of a fire-department in action fully as urgent a necessity for undisputed authority and implicit obedience as there is in an army on the battle-field; and whatever weakness or division of counsels may result from the ignoring of this necessity may be no less fatal in the one case than in the other.

In a large city, the members of the fire-department should be picked men,—intelligent, strong, active, sober. They should be paid for their whole time, at a rate which should put their profession on the same footing with the better paid descriptions of manual and mechanical labor. The festive element should be entirely eliminated; the occasions for it abolished; the employment of the fire-apparatus for parade on gala-days, and its transportation to other cities, prohibited. [Page 31] The firemen should, indeed, have the same opportunities for rest and relaxation with other men of their condition in life, but not collectively or officially. As single members could from time to time be spared, or were able to furnish acceptable substitutes, they might be allowed any reasonable liberty. But, unless on leave of absence, they should be held to constant readiness for any alarm in their respective districts. They should be thorougly [Note: sic] instructed and drilled in their several functions, and trained, not only in the management of their engines, but in the entire range of resources by which skill and experience can often supersede, and always supplement the use of the larger engines. They might also, very fittingly, be employed in the intervals of severer duty, as inspectors of buildings and fixtures in their relations to fire, or as a fire-police for the suppression of dangerous practices, employments and amusements.

We have left ourselves less space than we ought for the ultimate mode of safety, to which we shall be driven as regards new buildings, if the present rate of destruction remains undiminished, namely, the erection of fire-proof edifices. There are cities in which this art, though perhaps without express design, has been carried almost to perfection. In Paris, though the common building stone is easily disintegrated in hot fire, wood is so sparingly employed in building, that a hot fire is hardly possible. It is doubted whether the entire space occupied by all the buildings consumed in the late communist outrages, when incendiarism labored unchecked with strenuous purpose to destroy the city, is as large as that often burned over in a single night in one of our fires of second magnitude. In the old Italian cities an extensive conflagration is inconceivable; a fire that shall spread beyond the apartment where it begins, hardly possible. In Florence the fire-department—adequate to all uses—consists of a single hand-engine, a few buckets, and about a dozen men. In London, where fires are more frequent and destructive, they seldom pass from one building to another; for in blocks, a double division-wall carried several feet above the roofs interposes an effective check. We remember having seen a house thoroughly on fire in a densely settled portion of London, with the furniture in the two adjacent houses unremoved, and the inmates entirely at their ease. A few firemen were present, with a single hand-engine, the steam-engines being reserved for more important occasions.

In this country, it would seem as if superior combustibility were a foremost aim in building. If the walls are of brick or stone, the window-sashes, and often the entire window-frames are of wood; the [Page 32] cornices and mouldings more frequently of wood than of stone; the Mansard roof—for which there seems to be nothing less than an unreasoning mania—almost always of wood. The major part of the towers, steeples and cupolas of our brick and stone churches and public edifices are of wood. This is no less objectionable on the score of taste than of safety. The very idea of ornament includes comparative sumptuousness of material. No tailor or dressmaker uses ornamental trimmings of a meaner fabric than that of the garment to be trimmed. A building, otherwise handsome, is made paltry and vulgar by the cheap wooden accessories, by which rather than by solidity and symmetry, the architect—himself half-trained—often seeks to captivate the untrained eye and judgment.

In Europe, the building of cities de novo is not to be thought of. With us it is likely to be, in whole or in part, a common operation for many years to come; for to say nothing of the new centres of travel and trade that are every year striding from birth to plethoric maturity, there are large portions of all our existing cities that are destined to the flames, unless measures of reform shall be more rapid than we dare to anticipate.

In the building or reconstruction of cities a prime element of safety consists in the banishing to less thickly settled suburbs or solitary situations, all workshops or warehouses that are of necessity dangerous on the score of fire. In this regard, improvidence is not confined to our side of the Atlantic. Several years ago the city of Antwerp was imperiled by the burning of an immense range of petroleum warehouses in a very central position. In some of our cities similar sites are occupied by manufactories that require or create vast masses of the most readily combustible materials. A very disastrous fire, on such a site, occurred recently in a building in which were many tons of a species of wood-shavings absurdly named excelsior, used in the making of a certain description of mattress, which, probably on account of its highly inflammable qualities, has come into extensive use. A well-ordered municipal government would expel from its denser districts such branches of trade or manufacture as require the constant presence of combustibles in large quantities, and would bind under heavy penalties those which are liable to rapid accumulation of such materials to the daily removal of what cannot be massed with safety.

As regards materials for building, there can be no doubt that thoroughly burned bricks are best suited to resist the action of fire. A brick wall, if self-supporting, will stand with very little injury, when [Page 33] the building which it enclosed is entirely consumed. On the other hand, granite cracks, marble and all the softer stones crumble, and iron melts and runs away before a heat no more intense than that through which bricks came into being and can pass unscathed. The external surface of the building should have nothing combustible about it, and in stores, warehouses and public edifices, the windows should be guarded by iron shutters, and the doors by an external plating of iron. The iron shutters might be recommended for dwelling-houses also, unless there be insuperable æsthetic objections. For roofing, slates or tiles should, we think, have the preference. The compositions for roofing of which pitch is a principal ingredient do not, indeed, readily take fire; yet when a building so covered is in flames, it is impossible that the disintegration of the materials of the roof should not add fierceness to the fire, intensity to the heat, and danger to surrounding objects.

In the latter part of the eighteenth century great attention was paid in England and in this country to plans for making the interior of buildings fire-proof. In the American Museum for May, 1788, we find the sketch of a method devised, and subjected to the severest experimental tests, by Lord Mahon, who seems to have borne a strong resemblance to Franklin in his enlightened zeal for the application of science to the arts of common life. His plan rests on the known necessity of a draft from beneath or behind, in order to sustain combustion. He laid all the floors of his buildings in mortar, and back-plastered all the vertical woodwork. On floors and against vertical boarding thus prepared, it was found that fires might be kindled with a generous supply of combustibles, and would smoulder away and expire when this supply was exhausted, without essential injury to the building; and that by no amount of feeding or urging could a fire be made to pass from room to room. An improvement on this method is to leave no unfilled space behind either the main or partition walls, but instead, to build interior walls of cheap brick laid edgewise. Not only is security against fire thus gained, but a house so built is unaffected by exterior dampness, and by the slowness of bricks as a conductor of caloric, is made warmer in winter and cooler in summer. A wooden house thus constructed is drier and more equable in temperature than a brick house, as the external wall of painted wood rejects the greater part of the moisture which an external brick wall absorbs. In this way, also, rats and mice are excluded, while they seldom fail to find permanent lodgings in a wall constructed in the ordinary mode. In connection with this method, which hardly admits of essential [Page 34] improvement, it is desirable, in view of the present cheapness and availableness of iron, to use it for various purposes in the details of the building, as for floor-beams, balustrades for stairs, and pillars wherever required.

The only practical objection to fire-proof buildings is their greater first cost; but on a wise calculation this objection will disappear. The most generous estimate would add on this account not more than twenty-five per cent to the cost, and it is believed that all the essential benefits of the method proposed might be secured at an advance of fifteen per cent. It would take but a few years to cancel this extra cost by saving in the single item of insurance, which would be hardly necessary, or if still thought advisable, would be effected at a greatly diminished rate. At the same time, the solidity of this mode of construction would reduce to the very lowest point, the expense for necessary repairs. We are acquainted with one massive building thus constructed nearly a century ago, which has not begun to show any token of infirmity or age.

We have exceeded our proposed limits; but the subject has developed itself in our thought in several directions in which we lack space to pursue it. It is concern of the profoundest moment, not only to the peace and well-being of individual members of our several communities, but equally to the financial prosperity and wealth of the nation. Under each of the heads which we have specified there is scope for legislative action; and there are few topics that so imperatively crave the wise intervention of the law-making power. Especially should it be employed in preventing the erection of similarly unsafe edifices, to replace those destroyed in the great conflagrations which are from month to month sweeping away blocks, streets and districts in so many of our cities in every part of the land.

It is worthy of emphatic notice that the New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse has no inflammable materials,—its walls of jasper, its foundations precious stones, its streets of gold, its gates of pearl. Emblems these are, no doubt, of the strength and beauty with which we are to build characters that shall come forth unscathed and immortal from the fires of earthly temptation and trial; but may we not equally take them as types of the material structures, which, in their fragility or their enduring massiveness, we are prone to build after our own likeness?