Paladin Of Purity

Anthony Comstock spent a lifetime on a crusade to clean the nation’ Augean stables of smut, vice, and nudity. Sometimes it seems as if he pried in vain

Anthony Comslock made it his life’s work to purify this nation, to protect the young from such sights as might lead them into paths that would corrupt their souls and eventually lead them into the yawning pit. He was very certain that he was doing the work of the Lord, and almost singlehandedly for more than forty years he conducted a campaign against wickedness that not only swept in many real offenders against decency but also landed some pretty small fry whose sins appear almost nonexistent to a less discerning eye than Comstock’s.Read more »

More Sock And Less Buskin

In the hands of a rococo Yankee named Clyde Fitch, the American stage came of age with a gasp of scandalized shock

The first-night audience that poured out of Wallack’s Theatre in 1900 must have appreciated the cold February air, for they had just watched a thoroughly shocking play. Sapho , an American adaptation of a minor French novel, had burst upon the New York theatre like a thunderclap. The after-theatre crowds at Rector’s and Delmonico’s gabbled excitedly about what were the most explicit love scenes ever seen on the New York stage. Read more »

Liberty And Disunion

Three Centuries of Divorce, American Style

Appearances may be deceiving, but marriage in the United States looks as if it is in trouble. More couples—primarily young—are living together without the formality of marriage, and more couples—somewhat older and sadder—are ending their existing marriages in the courts. Some see in this the onset of American morality’s decline and fall. “Are we the last married generation?” asked columnist Harriet Van Home in a 1969 essay.Read more »

A Man For All Souls

THE EARNEST QUAKER JOHN WOOLMAN PREACHED AND ACTUALLY PRACTICED THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN

On October 19, 1720, was born one of the few saints and prophets this country has produced. John Woolman, the Quaker, of Mount Holly, New Jersey, is still relatively unknown in his own land though his Journal is extensively read in England, Germany, and France. That he lacks fame in his own land is not surprising. Too many of his ideas ran counter to those held by a majority of the population in his own time. His greatness lay in his compassionate humanity, a quality that is only rarely in fashion. Read more »