Nothing in New York fascinated me as much as the indications of the vast and multitudinous straitened middle-class life that is lived there; the average, respectable, difficult, struggling existence. I would always regard this medium plane of the social organism with more interest than the upper and lower planes. And in New York the enormity of it becomes spectacular. As I passed in Elevated trains across the end of street after street, and street after street, and saw so many of them just alike, and saw so many similar faces mysteriously peering in the same posture between the same curtains through the same windows of the same great houses; and saw canaries in cages, and enfeebled plants in pots, and bows of ribbon, and glints of picture-frames; and saw crowd after dense crowd fighting down on the cobbled roads for the fearful privilege of entering a surface-car—I had, or seemed to have, a composite vision of the general life of the city.
And what sharpened and stimulated the vision more than anything else was the innumerable flashing glimpses of immense torn clouds of clean linen, or linen almost clean, fluttering and shaking in withdrawn courtyards between rows and rows of humanized windows. This domestic detail, repugnant possibly to some, was particularly impressive to me; it was the visible index of what life really is on a costly rock ruled in all material essentials by trusts, corporations, and the grand principle of tipping.