Title: Nerve.—A Frenchman
Creator: Walt Whitman
Whitman Archive ID: loc.05997
Source: Institute of Aerospace Sciences Archives, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images of the original. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the manuscripts, see our statement of editorial policy.
Editorial note: This manuscript describes the ascent of a French balloonist from the Brooklyn Military Garden. Whitman leaves out the balloonist's name, but it is likely that he is referring to the ascent of Victor Vardelle on September 19, 1849. A number of announcements of the event had appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the days leading up to the launch, and the launch itself was reported in an unsigned story in the issue of September 20. However, it is highly unlikely that Whitman was the author of that piece; while Whitman had written for the Eagle, his position at the paper was terminated in January 1848, and none of the specific wording from this manuscript appears in the Eagle article. At the time of the September 19 balloon launch, Whitman was apparently between jobs; having announced his resignation from the Brooklyn Freeman on September 11, 1849, he would begin publishing his series "Letters from a Travelling Bachelor" in the New York Sunday Dispatch in October 1849. No published version of this blurb of Whitman's has been located, but it is almost certain that the date of composition was shortly after the balloon launch, in September 1849. On the verso is a note written by antiquarian bookseller, collector, and Whitman bibliographer Alfred Goldsmith (1881–1947).
Notes written on manuscript: On leaf 1 verso, in Alfred Goldsmith's hand: "Whitman mss—in pencil | This piece of mss. is entirely in the holograph of Walt Whitman. It was written about 1850—Whitman made other comment on the Brooklyn Military Gardens. These bits were written for the Brooklyn Newspapers, Times, Eagle Star etc— Alfred F Goldsmith—June 17–32"
Contributors to digital file: Kirsten Clawson, Janel Cayer, Kevin McMullen, Nicole Gray, and Kenneth M. Price
Nerve.—A Frenchman named a voyager in a balloon that went from the Military Garden in Brooklyn, rested simply on a narrow triangle with cross pieces of sticks.—On these, away up in the air and even when we could only see him well by the aid of glasses, he would swing down like a monkey, holding on in that vast emptiness, holding on merely by his hands, and drawing himself up again, and turning somersets as nimbly as a cat.—