Baltimore Evening Sun (22 February 1913): 6.
The angelic Hooker denounces Advocate O’Dunne for accepting a retainer from Dr. Stoncipher. Advocate O’Dunne denounces the Hon. Young Gorman for accepting a retainer from Warden Weyler. All that remains is for the Hon. Young Gorman to denounce the angelic Hooker for denouncing Advocate O’Dunne.
Meanwhile, the Hon. Satan Anderson takes a hack at the Hon. Charles J. Bonaparte, the vice crusader, in the current American Issue for refusing to join in the war upon the saloon. And meanwhile, the Hon. John T. Stone, the Lord’s Day Alliancer, is one of the penitentiary directors excoriated by Advocate O’Dunne.
Just what the Police Board will accomplish by its current campaign against vulgar dances is one of the things that only the future can reveal. That it has the power, at least physically, to repress any frisk or wriggle that outrages its sense of propriety is plain enough, but that this forcible, and perhaps extra-legal repression will bring about any genuine improvement in the morals of the vulgar is not so certain. The cell, as Haeckel once observed, does not act, it reacts–and this is true, in particular, of those cells which afford pasturage to the moral sense. The surest way to make a given action attractive, indeed, is to prohibit it and put a penalty upon it. Almost the only charm about smoking cigarettes, to the average healthy boy, lies in the assurance that he will be whaled if he is caught doing it. He smokes, in other words, because he wants to be brave, and not at all because his system craves a narcotic.
In the present case, the problem is complicated by a considerable uncertainty as to the Police Board’s powers under the law. It has a clear right, of course, to proceed against open violations of public decency, and a clear duty to exercise that right, but it is not always easy to show that a vulgar act is actually indecent. Here, in fact, we enter the trackless Bad Lands of personal morality, and those Bad Lands are peopled by many fearsome lions and tigers ever eager to spring upon the unwary. What seems an intolerable indecency to the professional moralist, with his raw nerves and hypersensitive nose, may appear to be only harmless clowning to the lowly sinner. It is certainly a dangerous thing to set up policemen as judges in such delicate matters. Their proper business is with gross and unmistakable violations of decency. Whenever they attempt to establish more subtle distinctions, they make asses of themselves and bring the laws into ridicule.
Particularly is this the case when they work under the lash of overtrained specialists in immorality. A policeman, as a general thing, is a man of sturdy common sense, and his natural impulse is usually to be honest and fair. But it is easy to corrupt his judgment and even his honesty by threatening his job. It is by this process that politicians make him connive at undoubted violations of the law. And it is by the very same process that professional moralists, with their great talent for bullying, make him take a hand in unlawful and intolerable tyrannies. It seems to me just as bad to have him do the second thing as to have him do the first. In both cases he arrays himself against the very good order he is sworn to uphold.
That vulgar persons are fond of vulgar amusements is not a matter in which the police can have any proper interest. It is not competent for a civilized government to prohibit vulgarity, nor would it accomplish any atual reform if it did. We think of Germany as a police-ridden country, with harsh and inquisitorial laws, but there is no law in Germany prescribing how and when a young donkey shall hug his best girl. If he wants to hug her on the public street, he hugs her there and then, and no one dares interfere with him. He is free to kiss her and chuck her under the chin. He may sit with her on a park bench and put his arm around her. And so in England, in France and elsewhere.
It is only in free America that a Puritanical minority devotes itself savagely to regulating the conduct of the vulgar mass. It is only here that a police captain would dare prescribe the exact manner in which two free agents shall dance. The Germans and other Europeans are just as inhospitable to open indecency as we are, but they are civilized enough to understand that mere vulgarity is not necessarily indecency. They know that poverty and ignorance are not productive of the reserve which we call refinement, and they do not attempt to improve matters by calling its lack a crime.
Let those Baltimoreans who are wholly civilized keep a sharp eye upon this growing passion for browbeating the poor. Let them not forget that the very moralists who now denounce the tango, the growler and the moving picture so violently would go even further if they had the courage. You and I read Rabelais, chuckling with joy; these hyenas of virtue would snatch the book away from us if they dared. We go to see “A Doll’s House;” these fellows would ban it if they could. Our women go to the opera with necks and shoulders bare; these snouters would send them to the House of Correction if it were possible. Let us not forget these things.
But is all war upon vulgarity therefore in vain? Not at all. What violence cannot do, good example may accomplish. The average human being is easily led upward; progress is in the blood of the race. Put good music into direct competition with bad music, and good music will always win. Put decency beside hoggishness, and hoggishness will grow ashamed. Let us combat vulgar dancing, if it exists, by providing opportunities for decent dancing. Let us try to give the poor and ignorant cleanly recreations, as we have tried to give them clean water. Let us call off the policeman and go to them as fellow human beings eager to help them upward and tolerant of their weakness and blundering.
More unpublished scandals from the life of the Hon. Satan Anderson:
In the year 1888 he won a copy of “Thaddeus of Warsaw” by playing the “Chop-sticks” waltz at a Sunday School entertainment. On July 4, 1880, he smoked two-thirds of a cigarette.
Col. Jacobus Hook dreamed the other night that Thomas A. Edison had invented an automatic cigar-giving-away machine. Such are the cares of a statesman.—Adv.
Boil your drinking water! Hatchet the moribund fly! Cherchez la femme!
The super-Mahon! The super-Mahon! Will fate attach another can to that undaunted, lovely man?