Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed. The Book of New York Verse. 1917.
THE LAST generation would likely enough have looked upon a book in honour of New York as a vain undertaking for almost unworthy ends. So much do fancies change. The affection which many of us feel for the city, the affection which day by day it is becoming more the fashion to cultivate, would have met with slight comprehension and considerable ridicule fifty years ago.
With our lately-regained admiration for New York, from the newest skyscrapers silhouette to the latest mushroom variation on The Black Cat, we are fond of thinking that the city daily grows more extraordinary, more thrilling. Relatively, it does not. We have caught up with it, thats all, and while we grumble as much as did our forefathers at its shortcomings they no longer entirely eclipse its glories.
As a matter of fact, the opening of the subway was relatively not at all more exciting than that memorable occasion when Croton Water first flowed through pipes into the city, amid the huzzas and fusilades of parading citizens. Trinitys spire seemed quite as impressiveactually was quite as impressive and remarkableto New Yorkers of the past as the Woolworth Tower is to those of the present. The fashionable events which took place at the Battery, or on Second Avenue, or on Broadway in the years when all the town walked there (only on the west side, of course), or along Colonnade Row, or on Stuyvesant or Washington Square, or in any other of the neighbourhoods which in successive generations have had aristocratic approval, were no less gay than are our machine-made functions to-day. Politics remains the same sort of a game, though probably never again to be played with the complete abandon of a Tweed. The stranger who remarks platitudinously that there isnt a home left in New York is, as is the way of strangers, wrong. Only the scavenger pigs have disappeared, along with the omnibuses and sleighs from Broadway and the Indians from the tobacconists. New York is still here, and little changed inside.
Poetry about both old and new New York is included in this collection. Many will be able to fill in from pleasant recollection or tradition some of the gaps necessarily left between the scenes in the following pages. In this connection it is well to mention that the dates are merely approximate.
The poems in the first part of the book are arranged in order of events, those in the latter half more or less according to locality. The notes not in parentheses which appear at the head of some of the poems are the authors.
The choice of poems has not been nearly so limited as might be imagined. My sister, Margaret Armstrong, has helped me with every part of the book. And as a result of our interest in obscure library top-shelves the dust shrouds have been brushed away from many volumes of verse, and many forgotten bits about the old town have been brought to light. We have been, as a rule, successful in including only poems which measure up to quite respectable standards both of poesy and general interest. But in one or two cases either the exceptional interest of the subject or the quaintness of the telling has seemed more than to counterbalance a lack of poetical merit.
I am not able to mention individually all the authors who, besides giving permission for the use of their work, have helped me by suggestions and by allowing me to see poems not yet in print; without exception my many requests and questions met with pleasant and generous attention. I am especially indebted to Mr. Clinton Scollard, an author who is also an authority; to Mr. Alfred Noyes, to Mrs. Frederick Gore King, of the New York Society Library; to Mr. Ferris Lockwood, a Director of the New York Public Library, and to many willing employees of that institution.
At the moment New York and its libraries are far away. That this also was the case during the correction of much of the proof must be my excuse if revision has not been as minute as would have been possible in less topsy-turvy times.