Baltimore Evening Sun (10 May 1911): 6.


The human mind constantly confuses things that bear the same name. Running a large city is a business and running a large wholesale house to a business, and therefore it is commonly assumed that a man who has shown capacity for the one enterprise must needs show capacity for the other. No doubt this is the idea at the bottom of Mayor-elect Preston’s plan to set up a cabinet of commercial advisers. Once more Hopkins Place comes to the front. Another “business” administration is upon us.

As a matter of fact, the connection between running a large city and running a bank or a wholesale house is scarcely closer than that between preaching a sermon and performing upon the B clarinet. Municipal administration is not exclusively, nor even largely, a matter of buying and selling. It is a matter of handling men and enforcing laws. The typical wholesaler gets little or no experience in handling men. His employees are few in number and of an extremely docile sort. He doesn’t have to handle them: he merely bosses them. Let that business man now take charge of the Street-Cleaning Department, and at once he discovers the abysmal difference between a stock clerk and a precinct executive, a sheep and a boa constrictor.

Baltimore’s adventures with “business” administrations have been far from happy. It would be difficult to imagine an administration more thoroughly unsatisfactory than that of Mayor Hodges—and yet Hodges was Hopkins Place in its best bib and tucker. Robert C. Davidson also comes to mind—and Malster! Let it be recalled, too, that in Rasin’s palmy days he was always backed by a sturdy and self-satisfied Business Men’s Association. The worst foes of Wallis, Cowan and Venable were men of high rating in Bradstreet’s book.

But generalizations, of course, are always dangerous. Mahool, a business man, has made a good Mayor—not a brilliant one, perhaps, but still a good one. It must be admitted, however, that Thomas G. Hayes was better one. And what was Hayes? A lawyer. Wallis was also a lawyer. So was Cowan. So was Venable. But they were also something else. That to to say, they were politicians as well—in brief, lawyers of political experience. The worst public servant imaginable is a lawyer-politician who is dishonest. The best imaginable is a lawyer-politician who to honest.

The trouble with the business man is that he seldom understands the game. It was always easy for Rasin to hoodwink Hopkins Place. He and Gorman made Mr. Hodges look like a child. It is not that the business man is a duffer at his own business, but that he is a duffer at the politicians’ business—which is as utterly unlike his own as the business of a chiropodist or a ship captain or a philologist.

According to J. W. Magruder, of the Federated Charities, there are 35,000 Poles in Baltimore. How many cities of Poland have more? Just four—Warsaw, Lodz, Czenstochowo and Lublin. The last-named has 60,000. The next largest Polish town, Piotrkow, has less than 33,000.

The United Railways Company’s pay-as-you-enter cars are roomy and sightly vehicles, and no doubt the company finds them good investments—but let it not be forgotten that they have no room for smokers! The right to smoke on the rear platforms of Baltimore street cars is not a privilege that may be granted or withheld by the company at its pleasure. On the contrary, it is an ancient right, in the English meaning of the term, with 50 years of enjoyment ratifying and reinforcing it. The man (or corporation) who would destroy it must beware. The Salle Law, the Laws of Mann, the Statutes of Justinian and the great writs of habeas corpus, quo warranto and certiorari are on the side of the plain people.

So far, the pay-as-you-enter cars are run upon but two lines. Smokers, being tolerant and patient, quietly avoid those lines. But let the new cars appear elsewhere—and a loud protest will be heard. I know plenty of smokers who are already drawing in wind for that roar. It will shake the town. We Baltimoreans are not New Yorkers. We do not conform our private habits to the convenience of public service companies. When we would dance we do our own whistling.

Against smoking on street car platforms three complaints are made, to wit:

  1. It prevents the use of pay-as-you-enter cars, which save the company money.
  2. It compels women entering a car to struggle through a crowd of smokers, white and black, and a fog of smoke.
  3. Smoking itself is an immoral and indecent practice.

The first complaint need not detain us. The company is already making money, and so long as it is as well managed as it is today it will continue to make money—not enough, perhaps, to earn dividends upon its enormous stock, but enough to give every bona-fide investor a fair return upon his investment.

The second complaint is also trivial. The smokers who stand upon the platform make that much more room inside; their failure to claim seats is really an advantage to those women who desire seats, and a favor to the company. As for the perils and horrors of struggling through them, they are grossly exaggerated by the peevish. It takes, on an average, about four seconds for a woman to proceed from the car-step to the interior of the car—and in those four seconds she is not likely to inhale enough smoke to poison her. Women, in general, are not nearly so delicate as romance makes them. A woman who can stand half an hour of the Lexington fish market is well able to face a few blasts of tobacco smoke. It is only upon entering a car that she is compelled to cross the rear platform. Leaving, she may use the front door.

But smokers are a filthy lot? Not more filthy, in the mass, than non-smokers. If I were a woman I’d much rather brush by a darkey from the guano works on the platform than sit beside him for half an hour in the car. Workingmen, white and black, who happen to be in dirty clothes commonly show decency enough to stand on the platform. Standing there, they smoke—and often pretty bad tobacco. Well, why not? They are tired, and standing is a sacrifice they make for the good of others–a proof of innate delicacy, of a high sort of self-respect. Why shouldn’t they be allowed the compensation of a pipe?

The fact that that pipe is charged with oakum is irrelevant. Not one woman out of 10,000 can tell the difference between good tobacco and bad.

So we come to the last complaint—that smoking is immoral per se. Is it? I’m sure I don’t know. But admitting that it is, it must be apparent that a public service company is not chartered to purge the common people of sin.

From “no-smoking” signs and barbers with perfumed fingers, from the scent of tuberoses and breach-of-promise suits, from glided chairs and Chopin’s music, from glassy potatoes and The New Thought, from genealogists and cold soups, from wedding invitations and the works of Washington Irving, from kittenish young preachers and red-shaded parlor lamps, from tonsilitis and rainy Sundays—good Lord, deliver us!

That Indiana bride who begged the parson to hurry her marriage on the ground that her shoes were tight and hurt her feet was singularly ignorant of what may be called ceremonial psychology. The very purpose of wedding shoes, indeed, is to hurt the feet, for it is only when human beings are suffering acute physical distress that they reach the heights of social complacency. A garment, like an act, is refined morally in exact proportion to its unpleasantness. The most uncomfortable gaud ever invented by man is the claw-hammer, or dress coat, with its padded shoulders, flapping tails and stiff lapels, and yet every civilized white man, when he would do the highest possible honor to himself and his host, puts on that preposterous thing. With it he wears a linen shirt, heavily glucosed and as painful as a pansiere or a sollaret; a waistcoat that grips the equator like a tourniquet, a collar that saws into his jowls and a pair of pantaloons so much at odds with his architecture that he must walk mincingly or risk catastrophe.

Not only those who pretend to fashion but also those who merely seek to be respectable are slaves to such barbarous habiliments. Observe the great masses of the plain people on a Sunday afternoon—the very time when they should be relaxing, stretching themselves, taking their ease. They do, of course, nothing of the sort. Instead, they array themselves to their Sunday clothes and suffer atrociously that their claims to common decency may be allowed. The squeaking of their tight shoes fills the earth with unbearable cacophony; their celluloid collars leave flaming welts upon their necks; their stiff hats paint red halos around their skulls, their very lingerie is vermillian, rough and overthick. And the young of the people—how their vast sashes of pink silk, their fuzzy half-hose and their headgear of linoleum must torture them!

Why do human beings run to such absurdities? Why is the man who dresses himself cleanly and comfortably, in a soft shirt, a slouch hat and baggy breeches—why is this man suspected of all social crimes and misdemeanors, from dipsomania to playing the violoncello? The answer is beyond us. But that the fact is a real fact no sane man denies. A bridegroom, preparing for his wedding, is expected to shave himself deep down to the stratum granulosum; to squeeze into a frock coat that grips him like a vise, to wear a collar that vivisects his ears. And a bride, unless she would be set down a slattern, must encase herself in a veil and a train that makes locomotion a great adventure—and wear tight shoes.

Miss Lillian Whiting, a Boston literary critic, believes that Robert Hichens is the greatest novelist now writing in English. Other persons slightly less credulous, believe that a nutmeg hung around the neck will ward off rheumatism. There is no accounting for beliefs.

H. L. Mencken