BEFORE THE OPENING
IN what more or less follows, the connecting thread is a purpose to show how familiar illusions refract upon the Wall Street lens, and how the Stock Exchange mind may be affected by the material in which it works. Except as they practise the trade of money with strange, three-edged tools, Wall Street folk are like other folk who happen to be anywhere else. The secret of understanding is to get their point of view.
The easiest way into Wall Street is by the Hall of Delusions, through which many have entered who forgot to return. That door stands always wide open. No legend of warning affronts the eye. There ought to be one, and it should read: "No Safe Conduct Here."
The easiest way out is at the end of the book. Between here and there are a Hoodoo, a Banker, a Wolf; descriptions of things and of people only as queer as true, hearsay of things which perplex the belief, and a conclusion which ought to appear of itself, to wit: That everywhere life's illusions are all of the same sheer stuff; variety is a trick of refraction.
An excerpt from the beginning of the first chapter:
I. THE HALL OF DELUSIONS
WALL STREET, if spelled with a capital "S," is a district of vague delimitations. There is a Wall street proper which takes the little "s" and is only a street. It begins at Broadway, directly opposite Trinity Church, and runs to the Brooklyn Ferry, on the East River; but when one speaks of Wall Street broadly one means to include lower Broadway, Broad Street, Exchange Place, portions of William, Cedar, Pine, and Nassau Streets, and—the Hall of Delusions. That you would never find without specific directions. As you walk east down Wall Street from Trinity Church it is the first opening on the right. Stroll in. It is a thoroughfare by courtesy only, and belongs by usage to Wall Street people, but nobody will notice you unless you are a woman and pretty, at whom the idle telephone boys on the steps of the Stock Exchange "Ah!" and "Oh!"
It is the rear of the great New York Stock Exchange you see on your left; on your right are some of the tall buildings which make the sky line of New York. One cannot begin to see the tops of them. The Hall of Delusions is very narrow. You come to Exchange Place. On your right you have more of the tall buildings, but on your left only such of the despised old rookeries as have yet to be displaced by steel construction. In one of these was the Open Board of Brokers, forty years ago; the sign is there still. In others are the tailors, stationers, tobacconists, and small shopmen who cannot afford to pay higher rents elsewhere. There are also a few dark places below street level, where even yet one whose capital is reduced may wager a dollar on the going up and down of one share of stock, stop one's loss at ninety-five cents, and lunch on the remainder. The last tall structure on your right is the Standard Oil Building, and now you have come to the end and are at Beaver Street.
You have walked through New Street. That is the common name for the Hall of Delusions. Retracing your steps, you will notice that all buildings, new and old, stand with their rear elevations to New Street. From that circumstance it derives a sort of privacy and other advantages, and is the more suitably devoted to the uses of brokers, traders, put-and-call dealers, financial writers, failures, touts, tipsters, moribund speculators, men of mercurial fortunes, and all the other accidental human phenomena of a great market-place where wealth is continually changing hands.
In New Street all men are equally under the delusion that the ticker is a source of wealth—that wealth is made and unmade by the going up and down of prices. Therefore, men in New Street are democratic. A speculator who does his ten thousand shares a day on the Stock Exchange will suffer himself to be harangued by a little speculator with a ten-share mind, and may debate with him the fundamentals of finance. A broker who has just executed a five-hundred-thousand dollar commission will stop to ask a put-and-call man what he thinks of the market. Only the Morgans, the Rockefellers, and the Harrimans of finance avoid New Street. Either they are not deluded or they are undemocratic. Though they may walk through any other thoroughfare of Wall Street unobserved, they would be recognized too familiarly here. Their names would echo behind them, and no telling what else.
Human litter is New Street's chief interest. Leaning against the Stock Exchange railing are the Closed Minds. They talk always of yesterday as a time when one could have made money, and perhaps did, but they talk to themselves. They appear as punctually at ten o'clock as any broker, and vanish at three, making their day of it. Their delusion is that Wall Street could not open or close without them....
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