America’s Venice

RALPH WALDO EMERSON SEEMS TO BE THE ONLY U.S. CITIZEN WHO HASN’T FALLEN UNDER THE CITY’S SPELL.

 

What could be more different than Venice and an American city? One pretends to represent the continued existence of the past. The other pretends to represent the ideal of progress, of the future. In their separate ways both are illusions, but no matter. The relationship of the Old and the New Worlds is not simple. It is like that of the sexes: Opposites may repel, but often they attract. Thus there are towns named and emulating Venice across America.

 
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Getting Right With Robert E. Lee

How to know the unknowable man

In 1905, on a visit to Richmond, the noted man of letters Henry James was struck by the sight of the equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee high atop its pedestal overlooking Monument Avenue.Read more »

The Man Who Invented Manhattan

Fewer than half of O. Henry’s short stories actually take place in New York, but we still see the city through his eyes

For most of this century, and often against the starkest evidence, New York City has persisted in seeing itself as “Baghdad on the Subway,” an Arabian Nights swirl of color, motion, tough characters with soft hearts, soft characters with sturdy hearts, tinsel, tears, and laughter. This is largely O. Henry’s doing.Read more »

The Hub Of The Solar System

The author walks us through literary Boston at its zenith. But Boston being what it is, we also come across the Revolution, ward politics, and the great fire.

Like three Bostonians out of four, I live on a site that was originally underwater. My house is on River Street, an alleyway that was built for stables at the bottom of Beacon Hill in the middle of the nineteenth century. Until my wife, twenty years ago, redesigned the carriage house we live in, no humans had resided there. Out of the back of the house we see the spire of the Church of the Advent, a late-nineteenth-century Gothic-revival creation that has the best music, and the highest Episcopal service, in Boston.Read more »

A Tiffany Gift

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner for 150 Years

SINCE NEW YORK CITY IS WHERE, AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, MOST OF THE MONEY IN THE COUNTRY tends to migrate, it is not surprising that it seems to have almost as many jewelry stores as it does restaurants. Of these many are excellent, and a few—Cartier, Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels—are grand by any standards. But only one of them has lodged itself in the national consciousness as being something beyond a purveyor of luxury goods. Read more »

Traveling With A Sense Of History

From Fort Ticonderoga to the Plaza Hotel, from Appomattox Courthouse to Bugsy Siegel’s weird rose garden in Las Vegas, the present-day scene is enriched by knowledge of the American past

To grow up in New England is to grow up with an inescapable sense of history, a heritage that a New Englander carries with him wherever he goes. Read more »

A Sargent Portrait

It took half a century for his critics to see his subjects as clearly as he did; but today he stands as America’s preeminent portraitist

John Singer Sargent, in common with Holbein and Van Dyck, was an international painter of portraits who did his major work in England. It was in his studio in London’s Tite Street, during the 1880s and 1890s and in this century up to 1907, when he abandoned what he derisively called “paughtraits,” that he re-created on canvas the world of the AngloAmerican upper classes. His success was as great as that of his two predecessors, but his posthumous reputation has had a bumpier time. Read more »

Our Neighbor Mark Twain

The years the famous writer spent in their town were magic to a young boy and his sister.

A year after our arrival in Redding, Connecticut, Mark Twain came there to live. Everybody in town had watched the building of his great house on a wide, more or less level plain, which, on our side of it, rose above a cliff that ran along Knob Crook Brook and its lovely glen. His land had been the sheep pasture of my Great-greatgrandfather Banks and was approached by an ancient stone bridge over the brook and below a steep road that no horse cared to climb.Read more »

William James Finds His Vocation

One of America s truly great men—scientist, philosopher, and literary genius—forged his character in the throes of adversity

THE YEAR IS 1890 and the place Cambridge, Massachusetts. On one of the streets leading northeast along the Harvard Yard a man in early middle age—he is, in fact, fortyeight years old, of slight build and medium height but vigorous motion—is walking with a pair of students, boy and girl, who have followed him out of his class in experimental psychology. His face is bearded and his eyes bright blue, and his features reflect the rapidity of his thought. He is William James, the scientist and philosopher.Read more »

Fear Of The City 1783 To 1983

The city has been a lure for millions, but most of the great American minds have been appalled by its excesses. Here an eminent observer, who knows firsthand the city’s threat, surveys the subject.

EVERY THURSDAY , when I leave my apartment in a vast housing complex on Columbus Avenue to conduct a university seminar on the American city, I reflect on a double life—mine. Most of the people I pass on my way to the subway look as imprisoned by the city as my parents and relatives used to look in the Brooklyn ghetto where I spent my first twenty years. Yet no matter where else I have traveled and taught, I always seem to return to streets and scenes like those on New York’s Upper West Side. Read more »