This preview shows page 269 - 271 out of 328 pages.
It is curious to find preconceived notions quite upset in a review of thenationalities that go to make up this squad of street beggars. The Irish headthe list with fifteen per cent., and the native American is only a little waybehind with twelve per cent., while the Italian, who in his own country turnsbeggary into a fine art, has less than two per cent. Eight per cent. wereGermans. The relative prevalence of the races in our population does notaccount for this showing. Various causes operate, no doubt, to produce it.Chief among them is, I think, the tenement itself. It has no power to corruptthe Italian, who comes here in almost every instance to work —no beggarwould ever emigrate from anywhere unless forced to do so. He is distinctly onits lowest level from the start. With the Irishman the case is different. Thetenement, especially its lowest type, appears to possess a peculiar affinity forthe worse nature of the Celt, to whose best and strongest instincts it doesviolence, and soonest and most thoroughly corrupts him. The “native” twelveper cent. represent the result of this process, the hereditary beggar of thesecond or third generation in the slums.The blind beggar alone is winked at in New York’s streets, because theauthorities do not know what else to do with him. There is no provision forhim anywhere after he is old enough to strike out for himself. The annualpittance of thirty or forty dollars which he receives from the city serves tokeep his landlord in good humor; for the rest his misfortune and his thindisguise of selling pencils on the street corners must provide. Until the cityaffords him some systematic way of earning his living by work (asPhiladelphia has done, for instance) to banish him from the street would betantamount to sentencing him to death by starvation. So he possesses it in
peace, that is, if he is blind in good earnest, and begs without “encumbrance.”Professional mendicancy does not hesitate to make use of the greatest ofhuman afflictions as a pretence for enlisting the sympathy upon which itthrives. Many New Yorkers will remember the French schoolmaster who was“blinded by a shell at the siege of Paris,” but miraculously recovered his sightwhen arrested and deprived of his children by the officers of Mr. Gerry’ssociety. When last heard of he kept a “museum” in Hartford, and acted theoverseer with financial success. His sign with its pitiful tale, that was afamiliar sight in our streets for years and earned for him the capital uponwhich he started his business, might have found a place among the curiositiesexhibited there, had it not been kept in a different sort of museum here as amemento of his rascality. There was another of his tribe, a woman, whobegged for years with a deformed child in her arms, which she was found tohave hired at an almshouse in Genoa for fifteen francs a month. It was a goodinvestment, for she proved to be possessed of a comfortable fortune. Some