November 20, 2013

The Montgomery Guard

He is a queer bundle of contradictions at all times. Drunk and foul-mouthed, ready to cut the throat of a defenceless stranger at the toss of a cent, fresh from beating his decent mother black and blue to get money for rum, he will resent as an intolerable insult the imputation that he is “no gentleman.” Fighting his battles with the coward’s weapons, the brass-knuckles and the deadly sand-bag, or with brick-bats from the housetops, he is still in all seriousness a lover of fair play, and as likely as not, when his gang has downed a policeman in a battle that has cost a dozen broken heads, to be found next saving a drowning child or woman at the peril of his own life. It depends on the angle at which he is seen, whether he is a cowardly ruffian, or a possible hero with different training and under different social conditions.
- How the Other Half Lives, Jacob A. Riis
New York City - 1880s - Jacob A. Riis - Preus Museum

3 comments:

Ms. Moon said...

Oh how humans love to romanticise poverty and addiction and suffering and crime.

Anonymous said...

Riis didn't glorify poverty at all. Quite the opposite in fact. The book is available on line. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_the_Other_Half_Lives

mr. downtown said...

No, Riis didn't (and that is a great read - I suggest it to anyone) but these kids sure did. You can be guttersnipes or street kings, and they made their choice.