The Slopes of Parnassus
THE NEW YORK TO WHICH GREELEY CAME IN 1831 was an overgrown town of some 200,000 inhabitants, its wharves, banks, stores, churches, shanties, homes, and temple-fronted mansions covering rather compactly the lower end of Manhattan Island. Gas-lighted Broadway was the finest street, stretching more than two miles up from the Battery to somewhere between Tenth and Fourteenth streets. Beyond this lay an area of farms and gardens.
New York was a growing, bustling place where business dominated life and thought. Merchants, bankers, lawyers, and brokers, in beaver hats and broadcloth, their brows furrowed with care and an acquisitive gleam in their eyes, streamed downtown in the morning and uptown in the afternoon. They were first and foremost money-makers, avid for power. The great majority of them, being good providers, were also anxious to satisfy the taste of their wives and sweethearts for crinolines, silks, and velvets. The shipping gentry among this hard-working band monopolized South Street, where a forest of masts and spars rode at anchor, merchantmen from all over the world, their bowsprits with carved figureheads projecting over a street piled with a confusion of bales, bags, and barrels and smelling of pitch and molasses, pepper and coffee. Pearl Street was the headquarters of the wholesale dry-goods merchants. The chief banks, insurance and brokerage offices were located in Wall Street, but that thoroughfare was scarcely the canyon of today. Its buildings ranged from two to six stories in height. The retail stores, where buyers haggled over prices like country customers, centered mainly on Broadway. Even in the midst of the panic of 1837, when the nation's economy stalled and failures bade fair to paralyze every sizable community, New York was preëminently a center of business life. 1
The market and the counting place bulked large in the life of