Something I think worth mentioning: the acknowledgement that there were newsgirls in the city, in numbers enough to make a distinction between them and newsboys.
On either side of the City a vast forest of iron posts connected by interlacing iron branches is rapidly springing up. By the philosophers and by the general public this spectacle is viewed with very different emotions. The latter sees in the iron forest merely the promise and potency of rapid transit. To the broker, the merchant, or the lawyer it is an elevated railway and nothing more. The philosopher, on the contrary, knows that these miles of aerial iron will have a profound and lasting influence upon humanity, and that rapid transit will be but a mere incident of their mission. They are the framework upon which the theory of Mr. DARWIN will visibly grow and flourish until it bears its ripened fruit. The railway companies have in this instance builded better than they knew. Their minds are occupied with thoughts of passengers, freight, and profits, but they are nevertheless unconsciously erecting what will prove to be a monument in honor of the inventor of the Darwin theory.
In order to get a good start let us in imagination go back to the day when the newly-developed monkeys were quadrupedal and lived on the surface of the ground. How did they become arboreal? The answer is not difficult to find. Attacked by beasts of prey, they sought safety by climbing trees. The larger animals, the elephant, the rhinoceros, and the pre-historic horse, could climb with difficulty, and to this day it is said that if a hunter is pursued by an infuriated elephant and seeks safety in a tree, the trunk of which is too small to be tightly clasped by the animals’ arms and legs, it is very improbable that it will succeed in climbing to the upper branches and seizing its victim. The monkeys soon found that by selecting thing trees with good judgment, they could sit in perfect safety and watch the futile efforts of the larger beasts to climb up to them, while the amusement afforded by seeing a heavy rhinoceros or camel slide suddenly down the trunk of a tree up which he had laboriously climbed ten or fifteen feet, developed the sense of humor which distinguishes the monkeys. Continued practice in climbing gradually converted their feet into hands. In time, their tails, which were originally either purely ornamental like the tail of the pig, or a means of expressing the finer emotions, as is the tail of the cat, became prehensile. The monkeys being thus fitted for perpetual climbing, finally became arboreal, nature, in accordance with the law of development, having provided them with the peculiarities essential to arboreal life.
Next to the monkey, the small-boy is, more than any other animal, addicted to climbing. Many small-boys regard the universe simply as a vast gymnasium furnished with opportunities for climbing which they never fail to improve. The elevated railways will open a perfect paradise for climbing to the myriad small-boys of our streets. The posts are provided either with lattice-work or with large projecting bolts, so that they can be readily ascended. At their summits the boys will find open iron galleries underneath the railway tracks, which can be traversed for miles by any boy who is reasonably agile and careful of his footing. A temptation like this cannot be resisted, and from the day of the completion of the elevated railroads they will swarm with small-boys.
It will be the merest folly to attempt to clear these interminable structures of the boys who will infest them. From the safe height of the elevated road-bed the small-boy can defy alike the terrene Policemen and the aerial railway watchmen. The latter can be placed only at long distances from one another, and will be of no use except at the precise points where they many be placed. As for the Policeman, nature has so constructed him that he climbs with the utmost difficulty, and long before he can toil up a railway post to seize the boy by whose “chaff” he may have been maddened, his intended victim will be half a mile away. Of course, boys will occasionally be cut to pieces by locomotives, or will accidentally fall to the pavement, but the vast majority of the street boys of the City will roam over the iron beams and girders at their own sweet will.
Now, mark the inevitable effect. These boys will in time become arboreal. The history of their development will closely parallel that of the monkeys. Their hands will grow stronger, and their feet, through constantly clutching iron bars, will gradually become so many additional pairs of hands. They will become infinitely more agile than they are at present, and will skip from beam to post with rapidity equal to that of the ablest monkeys. Whether they will develop tails or not is doubtful. Unlike the monkeys, they have no foundation on which to start a prehensile tail, and i t will probably take many years—perhaps centuries—before the elevated railways become peopled with tailed boys. Meanwhile, there is not question that the arboreal boys will imitate most of the tricks to which monkeys are addicted, and we shall ultimately regard the spectacle of small-boys hanging by their heels, or forming living chains wherewith to festoon the naked beams, as a natural and common-place one.
The probability that the wild newsgirl, who, although but recently acclimated among us, is already recognized as a species distinct from the common puella domestica [domestic girl], will share the arboreal habits of the street-boy, opens a vista of possibilities down which the Darwinian vision need not at present seek to perpetrate. It is enough to know that the elevated railroads will slowly but surely lead to the development of a race of arboreal and quadrumanous boys, thus at once illustrating and demonstrating the grand Darwinian theory.
Originally published in the New York Times on March 16, 1878.