Friday, February 10, 2012
175888 Harper's WEEKLY, Feb. 3, 1894
The State Capitol at Albany, New York.
174548 Harper's Weekly, April 9, 1881
Full-page illustration: 'New Senate Chamber, Albany state Capitol'.
175004 HARPER'S WEEKLY, New York, August 15, 1885
Bearing Gen. Grant's Body into the Capitol at Albany.
March, 1857, Harper's Monthly, ALBANY FIFTY YEARS AGO.
I AM an Albany Knickerbocker---a Dutchman of purest Belgic blood-and I jnstly claim to be heard, as the last as well as the most loyal of the fading cocked-hat generation, who mourn over the barbarisms of despotic Fashion and the hot haste of society in these degenerate days, when steam and iron have usurped the power of honest breath and muscle, and the lightning has become the obedient chariot of thought.
Albany, the Beverwyck, the Willemstadt, the Fort Orange of Colonial times---the oldest city in the United States except St. Augustine---has a claim to the reverence not only of every true-hearted Dutchman who loves his pipe, his krout, and his freedom, but of the universal Yankee nation, which has no geographical limit this side of Saturn's rings.
Standing still, as a Dutchman ought, I have become a second Columbus, for I have discovered a New World indeed in the changes wrought around me during the last fifty years. I am a bachelor of eighty, erect as a liberty-pole, and I thank Heaven fervently that I have neither sons nor daughters to mortify me with the absurdities of this absurd hour in our social retrogression, as I call what zealots name progress. My hair is like the snow or the hoar-frost, and no longer needs the aromatic powder of the good old time. So far, good; but when I look at the dear old three-cornered hat upon the peg in my chamber, I how I doubly loathe the glistening stove-pipe I I am compelled to wear upon my head in winter and in summer, in deference to the god of the tailor and the milliner. And when I contemplate my velvet small-clothes, with the bright silver knee-buckles, or even the Wellington boots and graceful tassels of a later day, how I sigh for the restoration of the elegant breeches and the abolition of the dangling pantaloon!
Well do I remember the great innovation when cocked hats and long bodices were doomed. I was after the French Revolution had given free reign to extravagant fancies in politics, religion, and social life that the mighty overturn in the world of fashion commenced, and the costumes in which our fathers fought and our mothers suffered for freedom, were banished from our best society to give place to the mongrel modes of French fanatics and servile English imitators. The phenomenon appeared even in the staid Dutch city of Albany, where French politics could find no rest for the sole of its foot. I was then a gay young man, and had been accustomed to adore the ladies (as I do yet) in ample skirts, waists showing Hogarth's line of beauty, flowing sleeves, and faultless head-dresses, albeit their hair was sometimes thick with pomade or frizzled into a bush. As suddenly as the bursting of a ba1100ndid the ladies' dresses seem to collapse from the longitudinal display of our own time to the economical dimensions of a white covering for a bean-pole. The bodice disappeared, the cincture went up directly under the arms, and the immense Mademoiselle Parpluies became nobodies, and might sing,
Shepherds, I have lost my waist,
Have you seen my body?
Sacrificed to modern taste
I'm quite a hoddy-doddy.
Never shall I see it more,
Till common sense, returning,
My body to my legs restore,
Then I shall cease from mourning."
Nor were the fair creatures solitary sufferers. Cocked hats, powdered hair, elegant wigs, exquisite queues, and even the breeches of the gentlemen were proscribed, and at last were compelled to succumb toward the close of the century. The hat assumed all sorts of shapes, but the prevailing absurdity was a very small crown and a very wide brim turned up at the sides. I remember turning out of State Street into Market
Street one morning in September, walking arm-in-arm with my old friend General Tenbroeck, then mayor of the city, when a young married couple belonging to one of our most aristocratic families, who had lately returned from their wedding tour in Europe, appeared just in front of Myndert Van Schaick's elegant three story mansion, displaying the new fashions to the fullest extent; indeed that couple were the pioneers of the innovation in Albany. The husband's hat was of orthodox dimensions. His coat, with narrow skirts, fitted closely, and so did his pantaloons, while his legs were encased in enormous Hessian boots. His cravat was full and high, and in his bosom was a magnificent linen frill. The lady had "lost her waist," and her dress---something like a petticoat tied round her neck, with her arms put through the pocket-holes---was a rich lilac color. Upon her head was a small hat, not unlike her husband's in form, over which was piled in profusion a great bunch of wheat-ears, the wearing of straw having then become the rage abroad. Well did the epilogue satirize this fashion:
"What a fine harvest this gay Season yields!
Some female heads appear like stubble-fields.
Who now of threatened famine dare complain,
'when every female forehead teems with grain?
See how the wheat-sheaves nod amid the plumes!
Our barns are now transferred to drawing-rooms
While husbands who delight in active lives,
To fill their granaries may thrash their wives
I remember seeing a fine caricature by Gillray at about that time, representing John Bull in the act of being dressed in the large-appearing but really tight-fitting French coat of the day, by a Paris tailor, who exclaims, "Aha! dere my friend, I fit you to de life !-dere is liberte I-no tight aristocratical sleeve to keep you from do vot you like 1- aha 1- begar ! dere be only vant von leetle national cockade to make look quite a fa mode de Paris I" John stands in stiff Hessian boots, evidently very uneasy, and exclaims, "Liberty! quoth'a! why zounds, I can't move my arm at all, for all it looks so woundy big! Ah I damn your French a fa mode, they give a man the same liberty as if he was in the stocks! Give me my old coat again, say I, if it is a little out at the elbows!" And so felt our bride and groom very soon, for the people stared, and the boys giggled, and the dogs barked at them as they passed by. Yet they had planted the infection in the goodly city of my birth; and from the hour of their advent the doom of the cocked hat, at least, was pronounced. Long and faithfully I defended the cherished ornaments of my young manhood, but my queue daily dwindled, my velvet breeches elongated and turned into broadcloth or nankeen, my chapeau rounded and loomed up, and after ten long years of fruitless opposition, and when all my compeers were vanquished by the tyrant, I yielded. Ever since I have followed loyally in the train of the conqueror. Vive la bagatelle!
Nor was it upon personal adornment alone that change, iconoclastic change, then commenced its work. There seemed to be a spirit of unrest abroad early in the present century, and a won
November, 1867, Harper's, Editor's easy chair, By George William Curtis
IN the early summer of this year there was seen for a few days a striking figure upon the pleasant balcony or piazza of Congress Hall in Albany. This hotel is upon the hill by the side of the Capitol, and its balcony is shaded by the dense foliage of the trees in the little street which separates it from the square in front which crowns the hill before the Capitol as you look up State Street. The pleasant balcony is closely associated with the pleasure of summer life in Albany by those who stop for a day or two, or by the Judges of Appeals in the summer term,and the lawyers and clients attending the court. This year it has been a kind of open-air club for the members of the Convention who lived in the hotel or in the neighborhood, and at any time during the short daily recesses of the Convention the invidious British traveler, setting his round eye-glass in his eye, might have seen a range of well-polished boots along the railing, and quadrupeds made bipeds by the tilting backward in chairs of august delegates.
Yet if the Capitol Commissioners have their way, and build the new Capitol at a cost which the finance report of the Convention estimated at ten millions of dollars, Congress Hall and its shady balcony are doomed. Indeed it was supposed at one time that its destruction, to make room for the new Capitol, was so sure that the house was stripped; even the grates were removed, and if the dismantling of an: old hotel would give the State a new Capitol the work was virtually done. Then came the Legislature, and the worthy and sagacious farmers at the Delavan, wishing to make hay while the sun shone, demanded such stately prices that there were rumors of an adjournment of the Legislature to some spot where the hotel farmers were less intent upon hay. This led to a sudden furnishing, after a fashion, of Congress Hall, and many of the statesmen who passed that winter in Albany had rooms in the old house, but did not know the tranquil and shadowy charm of its summer balcony.
Upon that balcony, as we said, in the early days of June there sometimes sat a small, slight man, apparently shriveled or withered, the slightness of his form emphasized by a huge broad-brimmed plantation hat. He was bent or curled over as he sat, and smoked a long pipe---so long that he was obliged to hold the wooden stem in his hand, as if it had been a chibouque, and he was always alone. He seemed to know no one and to care to make no acquaintances. Apparently he muttered a great deal to himself, as if rapt and unconsciously talking. But the murmur was inarticulate. It seemed a forlorn, grotesque old man, living in reverie. But when he arose his step was uncertain. He moved toward the dining-room in the same self-involved manner, and it became too plain that it was a man wholly besotted with drink. At the table there was the same muttering; a stupid wonder that the waiters did not come; a peevish impatience, and an abrupt stalking away from the room before he had half eaten his dinner. Then if, forgetting the sad spectacle of a ruined man, some musing loiterer upon the balcony could have looked through the trees of the dusky square down into the Albany of thirty or forty years ago, he might have seen an eager, intelligent lad, earnest in study, ardent in friendship, generous, aspiring, ambitious, with a sparkling and persuasive tongue, and a brilliant career smiling upon him from the future. Later he might have followed the youth to the other side of the continent, where the promise seemed to be partly fulfilled, and he rose to high civic honors. Yet upon a broader and more conspicuous platform that promise was wholly eclipsed, and the bright, studious boy became a man whose presence was a saddening spectacle, and whose name was a by-word. He had grown to be a national humiliation; and such was the wreck and waste of manhood that there were many who asked as they had never asked before-can nothing be done by law to prevent this terrible ruin which seems to lie in wait for any man?
When he sat upon the balcony of Congress Hall he held no public position-he commanded no respect. It was pitiful to see him crouched under the broad brim of his hat and to think that, as he silently smoked, he too looked through the trees of the dusky square down into the town and saw the rosy, eager, hopeful boy of thirty or forty years ago, and then thought of the horrible incubus which had gnawed his life and career away, and which he could never hope to throw off. Nobody spoke to him-it was useless; but he was too tragical a sight to smile at. Yet this old man, as he seemed, this prematurely withered frame of seventy, was only forty-eight years old. At the end of the summer, in early September, if you were coming up State Street one warm afternoon, you would have seen several carriages and a hearse before St. Peter's Church. The generous, hopeful boy-the ruined man-was dead. The service was read, and amidst the warm tears of those who loved him he was borne away. There was no address, no sermon. What could be said? The one great appalling fact of his life-could that be mentioned as a warning over his coffin? A1!d if it were not mentioned what else could be thought of? The prayers were said in the church, which was as gloomy and depressing as our Gothic churches generally are; but there was no sermon. The life, the death, they were the most solemn and impressive of sermons.
May, 1877, Harper's, Editor's Easy Chair, page 917
THE old saying that corporations have no souls is constantly verified, but it is amusing to see how little practical benefit results from the perception of the truth. An obvious application is to governments. Government is a huge corporation, and its want of soul is shown in the follies of which those in whom the power is officially vested are constantly guilty. They do, as members of the corporation, what they would individually resent the imputation of doing in their own affairs. And this justifies the jealousy of the
undertaking of great works by government, and certainly of its undertaking little works, for such works inevitably become great jobs.
This is the moral of a subject which is exciting much attention and a great deal of indignation in the State of New York-the building of a Capitol. Private citizens of the State have no difficulty in erecting at reasonable prices such buildings as they require for any purpose. But they come together in a public capacity, and economy, intelligence, capacity, desert them, and a huge job is the result. Ten years ago the insufficiency of the old State-house in Albany became intolerable, and it was resolved that a new Capitol should be built.
Immediately the bee of "the Empire State" began to buzz in the bonnets of all concerned. The Capitol of New York must be the architectural representative of the majesty and grandeur of the State. It must be an impressive, enduring, magnificent public work. There must be nothing mean nor small in the palace of the people. There were visions of marble walls, and spires and pinnacles, and domes and towers, and splendor
and space and as New York was the greatest of States, she must have the grandest of Capitols. But, in fact, no stately pleasure dome of Xanadu was demanded. The State needed a building with ample accommodation for the Legislature and its committees, the necessary executive offices, and the library. It was as easy to know what was required as it is when a private citizen builds a house. And having ascertained what accommodations were wanted in the new Capitol, it should have been easy, apparently, for the State to do next what any private citizen would have done. When he had decided that he would build a house of two stories, with a spacious drawing-room, library, and dining-room, that he would add
a smoking and billiard room, a conservatory, and a breakfast-room, and that he would have plenty of chambers and dressing-rooms, he would have summoned an architect and builder, and having told them how much money he proposed to spend for his house, and assured them that he should spend no more, he would have signed a contract with them, and would hold them responsible for any failures. This is the method pursued by private citizens. But when they become servants of the public and officers of the government, it immediately appears that, while each of them individually has a soul in his private body, the public body or corporation which they collectively form has no soul whatever. The State having determined to build a Capitol, and deciding what it wanted, also resolved to spend four millions of dollars for it. It was a vast and unnecessary sum, but, on the other hand, it was the Empire State. This was ten years ago. The Capitol has advanced to the second story. The State has paid eight millions of dollars, and it is supposed that four millions more must be paid to finish the building.
This comes of the fact that corporations have no souls, and that a work which required soul was undertaken by a corporation. In this instance it was inevitable, because a Capitol is a public building. But the Capitol at Albany, like the Tweed Court-house in New York, will be a permanent monument of the immense and apparently inevitable jobbery of great public works. The moral is plain enough. It is that governments should not be asked to do "outside work," and that when circumstances compel a State to do something out of its proper sphere, it should summon the assistance of those whom it knows to be masters of the subject, and who will make jobbery impossible. When the State decided to spend four millions of dollars for a Capitol, it should have taken care that no more money was spent. If it could not be responsibly assured in advance that the work should be done for substantially that sum, it should have reconsidered its action. A perfectly adequate and noble building for a Capitol could have been erected for four millions of dollars. The vast structure which has been undertaken, according to the official and professional reports, is not only extravagantly costly, but ludicrously inconvenient. The Assembly of the State contains one hundred and twenty-eight members. But the chamber provided for them is an immense and lofty hall suitable for a vast popular concourse, in whose great space the eloquence of honorable members. will awfully reverberate in hollow, inarticulate thunders, spreading dismay, but not persuasively imparting information. Even the style of the commentator, as the reader perceives, amplifies itself in sesquipedalian grandeur by the mere fact of contemplating the spaciousness of the hall.
It would be an extraordinary result of this new Capitol if the vast and chilly solitude in which the unhappy one hundred and twenty-eight are to shiver and thunder should cause the Legislature to propose a constitutional .amendment enlarging, for the mere sake of civilized neighborhood, the membership of the Assembly. It would be a result worthy the commemoration of the ancient historian of the State, the venerable Diedrich Knickerbocker, whose annals record nothing more consonant with his own spirit than such an enlargement would be. He would, in his gravest strain, describe the spell of gloom which the huge space imposed upon the dignificd body, and give to immortal admiration the name of the brave statesman who had solved the problem which perplexed the fathers of the commonwealth, by proposing that as they had built a chamber too large for the Assembly, they should now make the Assembly large enough for the chamber. What political consequences might flow from such action even that statesman or that historian would scarcely dare to calculate. What radical changes in the State, what political subversions, what benign or baleful policies, not even they could foretell. Perhaps-although the suggestion is quite beyond the present possibilities of human credulity-the change might bring into the Legislature members who could be bought, members who were accessible to corrupt influence, strikers, attorneys, agents of private interests. It might-for all things are speculatively possible-introduce into the Legislature of the Empire State, whose grandeur, it seems, demands the magnificence of the Capitol, men totally unworthy to represent her character and her greatness. If so grievous a result as this could ever follow the erection of the new Capitol, it must be considered dear even at so modest a price as twelve or fifteen millions of dollars. Onr posterity may be imagined as reproaching us that even to secure so superb a structure .and so large a hall we had been willing to take such a risk. This is one of the morals to be drawn from the text of the soullessness of corporations. Of the fierce contest of the "styles" that has followed an investigation of the progress and promise of the work, the Easy Chair says nothing. There has been some proposition to crown Romanesque with Gothic, or Saracenic with Greek, or some other monstrous violation of architectural morality. This is, however, but a secondary sorrow. The great fact remains that the State of New York, laboring under the impressive consciousness that she is an "empire" State, is building a huge and inconvenient empire State-house at a vast expense, and that the people of the State would have been spared a heavy taxation if those who have managed the business had conducted it upon the principles that would govern them in their private transactions. It is an argument for the limited function of government, and the new Capitol will be a permanent illustration of the truth that corporations have no souls.
March 1879, page 622,
"HAIL to the capital of New York!" said Mr. Seward, twenty-four years ago, beginning the speech which marked his passage from the Whig party to the Republican. It was in early October, when the weather is delightful, and it was, so far as we remember, the last time that he spoke in the old Capitol, with which his name will be forever associated as one of the great Governors of New York. "Old familiar echoes greet my ear from beneath these embowered roofs. The voices of the Spencers, of Kent and Van Rensselaer and
Van Vechten, of the genial Tompkins, of Clinton the Great and the elder Clinton, of King and Hamilton, of Jay the pure and benevolent, and Schuyler the gallant and inflexible. The very air that lingers around these arches breathes inspirations of moral and social and physical enterprise and of unconquerable freedom." These are lofty words, but their lyrical resonance befitted the accession of a great leader to a great party. They were the words whose echoes must have lingered in man ymemories at the brilliant opening of the new Capitol of the State, and the proudest challenge that the old building can send to its towering and magnificent neighbor, before whom it must soon disappear, is that its glories are these men and their has history, and that many a year must pass before the superb Capitol of to-day can hope to have even the beginnings of such traditions.
It was interesting to see in the splendid new chamber one figure which connects the new with the old, and the Capitol of to-day with that which Seward so glowingly described. Mr. Thurlow Weed was himself so important a part of Mr. Seward's own political career, he has seen and known familiarly so mauy of the most memorable men in the history of the State, and he has been so long one of its recognized political forces, that in seeing him in the midst of the brilliant festivity of the opening night, the spectator seemed to see more nearly the vanishing forms of Clinton the Great and the elder Clinton, of the Spencers and Kent and Van Rensselaer, of Hamilton and There was one remark made that evening which King and Jay. These names are amulets. They should be worn in the memory and fixed in the ambition of those who follow them in the new Capitol to serve the State. Well might statues of them all decorate the noble halls and corridors. A range of such New York worthies along the grand corridor would be inspiring---John Jay at the head, of whom Daniel Webster said, "When the spotless ermine of the judicial robe fell on John Jay, it touched nothing not as spotless as itself."
It was the successor of Jay in the Chief Magistracy of the State who appeared in the midst of the gay and impressive scene, like the severe old Roman in Couture's picture of the " Decadence of the Romans," criticizing by his austere glance the wild revel of the decline. At the height of the spectacle, about ten o'clock in the evening, Governor Robinson, in white gloves---a costly frivolity at which his sturdy republican hands seemed to protest as if in some occult manner aiding and abetting the enormity of architecture in which he felt himself obliged to be present---entered the Assembly-chamber, followed by a long file of laced and epauletted gentlemen, his staff. He passed rapidly through the chamber without stopping, and vanished behind the Speaker's chair. Thence he re-appeared in the upper ladies' gallery, where, high in air, he looked sadly down upon the expensive crowd in the expensive hall, as the old prophet may have looked upon the impious orgies of Belshazzar and his court, meditating, perhaps, with stern satisfaction that the next day he should have the opportunity to denounce to the legislators themselves the mad waste and extravagance
of which he thought them to be guilty. The denunciation duly fell; and the Governor gravely proposed that, as times are so hard, nothing more should be done at present for the completion of the building; and he seemed almost to insinuate that, as a commodious Capitol could be built for a smaller sum than that which will be necessary to finish this, it would be true republican economy to leave this vast, costly, and inconvenient pile to the bats and the rats, a monument of jobbery and folly. The Governor did not quite say that. He said, indeed, that nothing now remained but to finish as frugally as possible wonder is that the present Commission and the architects have been able to make so noble and imposing a building out of the wretched and worse than wretch cd beginnings. There are enormous faults, but the mind is comforted by thinking what might have bcen. The building already cost more than nine millions, and it will probably cost five millions more. But how ever large the cost may be, so long as the present Commission continues, the work will be doubtless worthily done. It will be done unquestionably in same generous manner in which it has thus far advanced. But that is unavoidable, unless we accept what is apparently the Governor's view, that the only thing to do is to finish it at the very lowest possible price of unwrought and unornamented stone. That, however, is idle. The character of the completed building is forecast. It will be finished as a structure of many styles a Renaissance building of which the New-Yorker in general will be very proud, and which will contain some of the finest rooms for civic purposes in the world.
There was one remark made that evening which will seem to many, probably, very just---that so magnificent a work marks the decline of republican simplicity, and an era of luxury and effeminacy, But this is a curiously distorted and crude theory. Great works of art, whether in architecture or painting or sculpture, however rich and splendid, are not produced in the decline but in the vigor of nations; and if it be answered that this is not a great but a false and meretricious work, the reply seems to be conclusive that whatever jobbery may have tainted the beginning of the work, it was rescued from all doubtful influences, and placed in the hands of as conscientious and able artists as there are in the country. This should be the rule to the end. The Commissioners, true to their duty, can not allow any consideration to affect them in the selection of artists but that of their known and acknowledged excellence. It is thcir duty to cause the work to be done in the best way. The moment they are induced, for any reason, "to give more people a chance," knowing that they will admit some of those who are less fitted for the work, they begin to yield to the spirit of jobbery, and to lose that loftiness and singleness of purpose which alone is the guarantee of a worthy work. The theory that governments are justly founded on the consent of the governed does not require the maintenance of the amusing doctrine that every body can do every thing. Yet it is evident that gentlemen in active politics are sometimes strongly impressed with the conviction that the true view of equal rights before the law is that every body is equally fitted for every thing, and that all public expenses should be so arranged as to put the most money into the pockets of the most people. It is one of the satisfactions with which the names of the Capitol Commission arc contemplated that there are some among them, at least, who do not hold this view.
The citizens of Albany, or that part of them who held the reception at the new Capitol, spared no effort for success, and their reception was perfectly successful. The halls and corridors will never again be more brilliant and beautiful than they were that evening, and whether the moral influence of imposing architecture upon legislation be precisely definable or not, and whether, therefore, it is fair to anticipate a higher general tone in our Legislatures than has been heretofore known, this at least is to be remembered, that the extreme simplicity and modesty of the old Capitol, hallowed by the venerable traditions which Mr. Seward recalled, did not prevent it from being a den of robbers in the time of Tweed and his gang. It will be many a year before disgrace so deep and foul as that of the Tweed administration will befall the State, and there was no incitement to it certainly in the outward splendor of the State accommodations. It was interesting to wander through the new magnificence, to forecast its enduring date, and, remembering the glories of the old Capitol and of the New York of the last hundred years, to feel the exulting confidcncc of equal greatness and patriotism and public service in the long and vast future that we revelers of a night shall never see.
July 1887, Harper's, page 309,
THE new building of the Equitable Assurance Company in New York is an object lesson of great significance. The entrance hall arcade of polished marble, with its symbolic mosaic, its arched roof of exquisitely colored glass, and its stately staircase of onyx and bronze decorations, is such a hall as even the princely Augsburg banker, Fugger, who burned in a fire of sandal-wood the emperor's bond, the Florentine Peruzzi, who dealt in royal loans to the crown of England, might have thought of a costliness and splendor beyond his reach. It is an illustration, and one of the finest, of what modern art can do in building for modern purposes. The massive palace is not the stately seat of a court which symbolizes the power and the wealth of a great state; it is a hive of private industry, and its ranges of rooms are the offices of that private enterprise and skill and sagacity which have so marvelously developed and moulded the country. But it is not for splendor that it is especially an object lesson. The morals suggested by such a building are many, but there is one which it is the object of our present meditation to mention. Twenty years ago there was a Constitutional Convention in New York, sitting at Albany, which, as one of the members said, was undoubtedly the ablest body that ever assembled in the State, because every member agreed in that opinion. The Convention sat in the old Capitol, in which, a few years before, Mr. Seward had made one of his most important and impressive speeches, describing with great felicity its historic associations: "Old familiar echoes greet my ear from beneath these embowered roofs. The voices of the Spencers, of Kent and Van Rensselaer and Van Vechten, of the genial Tompkins, of Clinton the great and the elder Clinton, of King and Hamilton, of Jay, the pure and benevolent, and Schuyler, the gallant and inflexible. The very air that lingers around these arches breathes inspirations of moral, social, of physical enterprise, and of unconquerable freedom." A building so hallowed was full of charm, and a certain natural sentiment gave great interest to the question of replacing it with another which by its magnificence should symbolize the State imperial in population, in extent, in prosperity, and in the character of its domain. But when it was proposed that the cost of its erection should not exceed four millions of dollars, the Convention paused, as it were, with a shudder, and "the boldest held his breath for a time." Twenty years ago four millions of dollars was a large sum of money, and to propose a tax of that amount for a public building was a suggestion which required reflection. It was decided, however, that a new Capitol should be built. Due provision was made, and the work was begun. It was twenty years ago. The building is still unfinished. It has cost already more than four times four millions of dollars. It is denounced as dark, damp, and inconvenient, a vast waste of space and unmeaning splendor, and as this meditation proceeds, the stones and plaster are falling from the ceiling of the Assembly Chamber, and there are strange rumors of an uncertain foundation. Much of the ill fame may be due to the ardent temperament of the reporter, naturally inclined to magnify his vocation, and to treat every topic in the grand style, so that a scrap of plaster may figure as a rock. But why should even a scrap of plaster fall?
It is not, however, the imagination of an excited or large-handed reporter which records that it is nearly twenty years ago that the Capitol was begun, and that its cost is already approaching twenty millions of dollars, while still much remains to do. These are indisputable facts. It is equally indisputable that the work of transforming the Equitable Building began one year ago, and that all the additions have been made and the rich and exquisite and massive decorations have been completed between two May-days. If it had been a public work it would be still dawdling along at the third or fourth story. But it is a private building, erected for private purposes and by private interest, and it is accomplished with a precision and promptitude which the builders of the Pyramids might have envied.
"Why should the vest on him allure
Which I could not on me endure?"
Why should a work which by private enterprise is promptly and satisfactorily completed, for a public purpose become so prolonged, so wastefully costly, and so unsatisfactory? The State could have required a contract specifying the cost and the time, upon penalty of absolute loss. An adequate Capitol, even for the Empire State, could have been finished ten years ago at a third of the cost of the present unfinished structure. Why was it not done? The ultimate reason is that for public works legislatures and committees and commissions and agents do not personally pay, but depend upon the general tax levy. In such enterprises delay and extravagance and unfitness and waste are burdens that fall upon the public, not upon individuals, and the public is nobody in particular. It is for this reason that whatever the State does in this kind is done poorly and at vast cost. 'I'his is one of the morals which preaches itself in the marble arcade of the Equitable. It should chasten the ardor of those who are eager that the State should do everything, or who at least favor State rather than individual enterprise. Those who urge that railroads and telegraphs
should be managed by the government should show how they mean to provide that so enormous an extension of the patronage of the government would not perilously increase the power of the party of administration, and tend directly not only to an immense increase of taxation, but to the overthrow of government by the people.
The way of wisdom is the golden mean. There are limits, of course, to the good policy of trusting private rather than the public agency. Private enterprise would doubtless carry letters as promptly and securely as the public post, and more economically; but it would carry them only where it was profitable, while the public post carries letters and merchandise to the extreme frontier, usually at a great annual loss to the public treasury. But this loss is more than made up by the encouragement and the inexpressible convenience of
settlers. Paternalism in certain great enterprises, like the schools and the post-office, although costly, is wise. These are better controlled by the govcrnmcnt than by private interest and enterprise. But paternalism is an
anti-American tendency in government, and the true American rule is that of Bacon, " an inclination to the more benign extreme."
It would be a singular benefit if the new and beautiful corridor of the Equitable should serve as a portico where the pedestrian might step in from the street and learn a lesson in the principles of good government. Certainly the loiterer in the vast and dark spaces of the new Capitol is surrounded with such lessons; and legislators who are bent upon winning the most sweet voices of a labor party, not by pandering to ignorance and prejudice, but by appealing to reason and common-sense, might well draw from the Capitol in which they speak the most forcible argument and illustration of the wisdom of restricting the functions of government.