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New York James Fenimore Cooper

New York

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It is now just three-and-twenty years since, that, in another work[1] , we ventured to predict the great fortunes that were in reserve for this American mart, giving some of the reasons that then occurred to us that had a tendency to produce such a result. These predictions drew down upon us sneers, not to say derision, in certain quarters, where nothing that shadows forth the growing power of this republic is ever received with favor. The intervening period has more than fulfilled our expectations. In this short interval, the population of the Manhattan towns has more than trebled, while their wealth and importance have probably increased in a greatly magnified proportion. Should the next quarter of a century see this ratio in growth continued, London would be very closely approached in its leading element of superiority--numbers. We have little doubt that the present century will bring about changes that will place the emporium of the Old World and that of the New nearly on a level. This opinion is given with a perfect knowledge of the vast increase of the English capital itself, and with a due allowance for its continuance. We propose, in the body of this work, to furnish the reasons justifying these anticipations.

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Seventeen years since[2] , the writer returned home from a long residence in Europe, during which he had dwelt for years in many of the largest towns of that quarter of the world. At a convivial party in one of the most considerable dwellings in Broadway, the conversation turned on the great improvements that had then been made in the town, with sundry allusions that were intended to draw out the opinions of a traveller on a subject that justly ever has an interest with the Manhattanese. In that conversation the writer--his memory impressed with the objects with which he had been familiar in London and Paris, and Rome, Venice, Naples, etc., and feeling how very provincial was the place where he was, as well as its great need of change to raise it to the level of European improvement--ventured to say that, in his opinion, speaking of Broadway, "There was not a building in the whole street, a few special cases excepted, that would probably be standing thirty years hence." The writer has reason to know that this opinion was deemed extravagant, and was regarded as a consequence of European rather than of American reasoning. If the same opinion were uttered to-day, it would meet with more respect. Buildings now stand in Broadway that may go down to another century, for they are on a level with the wants and tastes of a capital; but none such, with a single exception, existed at the time of which we are writing.

In these facts are to be found the explanation of the want of ancient edifices in America. Two centuries and a half are no very remote antiquity, but we should regard buildings of that, or even of a much less age, with greater interest, did the country possess them. But nothing was constructed a century since that was worth preserving on account of its intrinsic merits; and, before time can throw its interest around them, edifice after edifice comes down, to make way for a successor better suited to the wants and tastes of the age. In this respect New York is even worse off than the other ancient places of the country--ancient as things can be regarded in America--its great growth and commercial spirit demanding sacrifices that Philadelphia and Boston have as yet escaped. It is quite within the scope of probable things, that, in a very few years, there should not be standing in the old town a single structure of any sort, that was there previously to the Revolution. As for the new towns, Brooklyn, Williamsburgh, etc., they had no existence worth alluding to anterior to the commencement of the present century. If any dwelling is to be found within the limits of either, that can claim a more remote origin, it is some farmhouse that has been swallowed up by the modern improvements.

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New York
James Fenimore Cooper

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