PART ONE TODAY.
ArtsPR links AMERICAN PHANTASMAGORIA within this crisis to transform our lives.
My production of John Maguire’s play HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY (1877) won the Irish Institute Award. Subsequently, our VHS was accepted in Theatre On Film archive at the Theatre Collection of Lincoln Center Library and programs by The Museum of the City of NY.
Having just discovered this remarkable essay by I believe John Maguire for Century 21. It is a profound window as was his play in the 19th Century to us.
from The Irish in America (1867) PART ONE TODAY John Francis MaguireThe Irish were weighed down by many woes in the nineteenth century, prime among them British dominion and the famine wrought by the potato rot. The weight buried many at home and squeezed others out to find freedom and food abroad. These Irish immigrants, who by 1860 composed the largest foreign-born group in America, faced perhaps the greatest prejudice. John Francis Maguire, looking back on decades of Irish migration, tried to explain why to both Irish and American readers in his book, The Irish in America.* * *Irish emigrants of the peasant and labouring class were generally poor, and after defraying their first expenses on landing had little left to enable them to push their way into the country in search of such employment as was best suited to their knowledge and capacity: though had they known what was in store for too many of them and their children, they would have endured the severest privation and braved any hardship, in order to free themselves from the fatal spell in which the fascination of a city life has meshed the souls of so many of their race. Either they brought little money with them, and were therefore unable to go on; or that little was plundered from them by those whose trade it was to prey upon the inexperience or credulity of the newcomer. Therefore, to them, the poor or the plundered Irish emigrants, the first and pressing necessity was employment; and so splendid seemed the result of that employment, even the rudest and most laborious kind, as compared with what they were able to earn in the old country, that it at once predisposed them in favour of a city life. . . . Then there were old friends and former companions or acquaintances to be met with at every street-corner; and there was news to give, and news to receive—too often, perhaps, in the liquor-store or dram-shop kept by a countryman—probably ‘a neighbour’s child,’ or ‘a decent boy from the next ploughland.’ Then ‘the chapel was handy,’ and ‘a Christian wouldn’t be overtaken for want of a priest;’ then there was ‘the schooling convenient for the children, poor things,’—so the glorious chance was lost; and the simple, innocent countryman, to whom the trees of the virgin forest were nodding their branches in friendly invitation, and the blooming prairie expanded its fruitful bosom in vain, became the denizen of a city, for which he was unqualified by training, by habit, and by association. Possibly it was the mother’s courage that failed her as she glanced at the flock of little ones who clustered around her, or timidly clung to her skirts, and she thought of the new dangers and further perils that awaited them; and it was her maternal influence that was flung into the trembling balance against the country and in favour of the city.
Or employment was readily found for one of the girls, or one or two of the boys, and things looked so hopeful in the fine place that all thoughts of the fresh, breezy, healthful plain or hill-side were shut out at that supreme moment of the emigrant’s destiny; though many a time after did he and they long for one breath of pure air, as they languished in the stifling heat of a summer in a tenement house. Or the pioneer of the family—most likely a young girl—had found good employment, and, with the fruits of her honest toil, had gradually brought out brothers and sisters, father and mother, for whose companionship her heart ever yearned; and possibly her affection was stronger than her prudence, or she knew nothing of the West and its limitless resources.
Or sickness, that had followed the emigrant’s family across the ocean, fastened upon some member of the group as they touched the soil for which they had so ardently prayed, and though the fever or the cholera did not destroy a precious life, it did the almost as precious opportunity of a better future! the spring of that energy which was sufficient to break asunder the ties and habits of previous years—sufficient for flight from home and country—was broken, and those who faced America in high hope were thenceforth added to the teeming population of a city—to which class, it might be painful to speculate.* * *This headlong rushing into the great cities has the necessary effect of unduly adding to their population, thereby overtaxing their resources, however large or even extraordinary these resources may be, and of rudely disturbing the balance of supply and demand. The hands—the men, women, and children—thus become too many for the work to be done, as the work becomes too little for the hands willing and able to do it. What is worse, there are too many mouths for the bread of independence; and thus the bread of charity has to supplement the bread which is purchased with the sweat of the brow.
Happy would it be for the poor in the towns of America, as elsewhere, if the bread of charity were the only bread with which the bread of independence is supplemented. But there is also the bread of degradation, and the bread of crime. And when the moral principle is blunted by abject misery, or weakened by disappointments and privation, there is but a narrow barrier between poverty and crime; and this, too frequently, is soon passed. For such labour as is thus recklessly poured into the great towns there is constant peril.
It is true, there are seasons when there is a glut of work, when the demand exceeds the supply—when some gigantic industry or some sudden necessity clamours for additional hands; but there are also, and more frequently, seasons when work is slack, seasons of little employment, seasons of utter paralysis and stagnation. Cities are liable to occasional depressions of trade, resulting from over production, or the successful rivalry of foreign nations, or even portions of the same country; or there are smashings of banks, and commercial panics, and periods of general mistrust. Or, owing to the intense severity of certain seasons, there is a total cessation of employments of particular kinds, by which vast numbers of people are flung idle on the streets. . . .
The evil of overcrowding is magnified to a prodigious extent in New York, which, being the port of arrival—the Gate of the New World—receives a certain addition to its population from almost every ship-load of emigrants that passes through Castle Garden. There is scarcely any city in the world possessing greater resources than New York, but these resources have long since been strained to the very uttermost to meet the yearly increasing demands created by this continuous accession to its inhabitants; . . .As in all cities growing in wealth and in population, the dwelling accommodation of the poor is yearly sacrificed to the increasing necessities or luxury of the rich. While spacious streets and grand mansions are on the increase, the portions of the city in which the working classes once found an economical residence, are being steadily encroached upon—just as the artisan and labouring population of the City of London are driven from their homes by the inexorable march of city improvements, and streets and courts and alleys are swallowed up by a great thoroughfare or a gigantic railway terminus. . . .
As stated on official authority, there are 16,000 tenement houses in New York, and in these there dwell more than half a million of people! This astounding fact is of itself so suggestive of misery and evil, that it scarcely requires to be enlarged upon; . . .* * *It is not at all necessary that an Irish immigrant should go West, whatever and how great the inducements it offers to the enterprising. There is land to be had, under certain circumstances and conditions, in almost every State in the Union. And there is no State in which the Irish peasant who is living from hand to mouth in one of the great cities as a day-labourer, may not improve his condition by betaking himself to his natural and legitimate avocation—the cultivation of the soil. Nor is the vast region of the South unfavourable to the laborious and energetic Irishman.
On the contrary, there is no portion of the American continent in which he would receive a more cordial welcome, or meet with more favourable terms. This would not have been so before the war, or the abolition of slavery, and the upset of the land system which was based upon the compulsory labour of the negro. . . . The policy of the South is to increase and strengthen the white population, so as not to be, as the South yet is, too much dependent on the negro; and the planter who, ten years ago, would not sever a single acre from his estate of 2,000, or 10,000, or 20,000 acres, will now readily divide, if not all, at least a considerable portion of it, into saleable quantities, to suit the convenience of purchasers. . . .* * *Were I asked to say what I believed to be the most serious obstacle to the advancement of the Irish in America, I would unhesitatingly answer—Drink; meaning thereby the excessive use, or abuse, of that which, when taken in excess, intoxicates, deprives man of his reason, interferes with his industry, injures his health, damages his position, compromises his respectability, renders him unfit for the successful exercise of his trade, profession, or employment—which leads to quarrel, turbulence, violence, crime. I believe this fatal tendency to excessive indulgence to be the main cause of all the evils and miseries and disappointments that have strewed the great cities of America with those wrecks of Irish honour, Irish virtue, and Irish promise, which every lover of Ireland has had, one time or other, bitter cause to deplore.
Differences of race and religion are but as a feather’s weight in the balance; indeed these differences tend rather to add interest to the steady and self-respecting citizen. Were this belief, as to the tendency of the Irish to excess in the use of stimulants, based on the testimony of Americans, who might probably be somewhat prejudiced, and therefore inclined to judge unfavourably, or pronounce unsparingly, I should not venture to record it; but it was impressed upon me by Irishmen of every rank, class, and condition of life, wherever I went, North or South, East or West. It was openly deplored, or it was reluctantly admitted. I rarely heard an Irishman say that his country or his religion was an effectual barrier to his progress in the United States. . . .
[From John Francis Maguire, The Irish in America, 4th ed, (New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Company, 1867), pp. 215–19, 240, 252, 281–84, 333–37.
danielpquinn | Newark, NJ 11/14/20
Uncle Joe could be The Miracle Worker for 2021. Waking up America and letting it see his compassion. Like that of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. He could make a difference in peoples lives and The White House for all Americans.
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