O. henry the voice of the city 1919


Twenty-five years ago the school children used to chant their
Lessons. The manner of their delivery was a singsong recitative
Between the utterance of an Episcopal minister and the drone of a
Tired sawmill. I mean no disrespect. We must have lumber and sawdust.

I remember one beautiful and instructive little lyric that emanated
From the physiology class. The most striking line of it was this:

“The shin-bone is the long-est bone in the hu-man bod-y.”

What an inestimable boon it would have been if all the corporeal
And spiritual facts pertaining to man had thus been tunefully and
Logically inculcated in our youthful minds! But what we gained in
Anatomy, music and philosophy was meagre.

The other day I became confused. I needed a ray of light. I turned
Back to those school days for aid. But in all the nasal harmonies
We whined forth from those hard benches I could not

recall one that
Treated of the voice of agglomerated mankind.

In other words, of the composite vocal message of massed humanity.

In other words, of the Voice of a Big City.

Now, the individual voice is not lacking. We can understand the
Song of the poet, the ripple of the brook, the meaning of the man
Who wants $5 until next Monday, the inscriptions on the tombs of
The Pharaohs, the language of flowers, the “step lively” of the
Conductor, and the prelude of the milk cans at 4 A. M. Certain
Large-eared ones even assert that they are wise to the vibrations of
The tympanum produced by concussion of the air emanating from Mr. H.
James. But who can comprehend the meaning of the voice of the city?

I went out for to see.

First, I asked Aurelia. She wore white Swiss and a hat with flowers
On it, and ribbons and ends of things fluttered here and there.

“Tell me,” I said, stammeringly, for I have no voice of my own, “what
Does this big – er – enormous – er – whopping city say? It must have a
Voice of some kind. Does it ever speak to you? How do you interpret
Its meaning? It is a tremendous mass, but it must have a key.”

“Like a Saratoga trunk?” asked Aurelia.

“No,” said I. “Please do not refer to the lid. I have a fancy that
Every city has a voice. Each one has something to say to the one who
Can hear it. What does the big one say to you?”

“All cities,” said Aurelia, judicially, “say the same thing. When
They get through saying it there is an echo from Philadelphia. So,
They are unanimous.”

“Here are 4,000,000 people,” said I, scholastically, “compressed upon
An island, which is mostly lamb surrounded by Wall Street water. The
Conjunction of so many units into so small a space must result in an
Identity – or, or rather a homogeneity that finds its oral expression
Through a common channel. It is, as you might say, a consensus of
Translation, concentrating in a crystallized, general idea which
Reveals itself in what may be termed the Voice of the City. Can you
Tell me what it is?”

Aurelia smiled wonderfully. She sat on the high stoop. A spray
Of insolent ivy bobbed against her right ear. A ray of impudent
Moonlight flickered upon her nose. But I was adamant, nickel-plated.

“I must go and find out,” I said, “what is the Voice of this City.
Other cities have voices. It is an assignment. I must have it. New
York,” I continued, in a rising tone, “had better not hand me a cigar
And say: ‘Old man, I can’t talk for publication.’ No other city acts
In that way. Chicago says, unhesitatingly, ‘I will;’ I Philadelphia

O. henry the voice of the city 1919