Title: Brooklyniana, No. 38
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: October 25, 1862
Publication information: Brooklyn Standard 25 October 1862: [unknown].
Source: Our transcription is based on Emory Holloway, ed. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1921. pp. 316–318. The date of the article is from Joel Myerson, Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00238
Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Janel Cayer, Ashley Lawson, Liz McClurg, and Sarah Walker
A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present.
Montauk and its present condition.—The Indians now there.—Description of the point.—Our party in gay spirits.
PERHAPS you would like to hear something about the present state of the Indian remnants on East Long Island. There are—so I am told—a few Indians more toward the western part of Easthampton, who live nearer to rational comfort and decorum; but the several specimens of men, women and children whom I saw were quite enough to take poetry out of one's aboriginal ideas. They are degraded, shiftless and intemperate—very much after the lowest class of blacks. They glean a sort of living out of their free range of the peninsula before mentioned, and by working for the farmers in harvest time, and selling baskets, mats and wooden ware, in making which they are very handy. The best thing connected with these poor devils [is] that they are not very thievish—perhaps, considering their poverty, less so than any known race of people. And Mr. Eels,1 of Brooklyn, who resided among the red men at the Northwest for many years, tells me that it is even to this day the same there. But I must keep on to Montauk Point, where we now arrive, and camp, our male and female party, myself and all.2
Montauk Point! how few Americans there are who have not heard of thee—although there are equally few who have seen thee with their bodily eyes, or trodden on thy green-sward. Most people possess an idea, (if they think at all about the matter,) that Montauk Point is a low stretch of land, poking its barren nose out toward the east, and hailing the sea-wearied mariner, as he approaches our republican shores, with a sort of dry and sterile countenance. Not so is the fact. To its very extreme verge, Montauk is fertile and verdant. The soil is rich, the grass is green and plentiful; the best patches of Indian corn and vegetables I saw last autumn are within gun shot of the salt waves of the Atlantic, being just five deg. east longitude from Washington, and the very extremest terra firma of the good state of New York.
Nor is the land low in situation. It binds the shore generally in bluffs and elevations. The point where the light house stands—and it is the extreme point—is quite a high hill; it was called by the Indians Wamponomon—by modern folks Turtlehill. The light-house here is a very substantial one of an old-fashioned sort, built in 1795; the lights are two hundred feet above the level of the sea. Sheltered in a little vale, near by, is the dwelling of the keeper and his family, the only comfortable residence for many miles. It is a tolerably roomy cottage—a sort of public house; and some inveterate sportsmen and lovers of nature in her wild aspects come here during the summer and fall, and board awhile and have fun.
As every man was master of his time between our arrival and the period of dinner, I, with the rest of the party, took a good long ramble for several miles to and fro. To a mineralogist, I fancy Montauk Point must be a perpetual feast. Even to my unscientific eyes there were innumerable wonders and beauties all along the shore, and edges of the cliffs. There were earths of all colors, and stones of every conceivable shape, hue, and destiny, with shells, large boulders of a pure white substance, and layers of those smooth round pebbles called "milk-stones" by the country children. There were some of them tinged with pale green, blue or yellow—some streaked with various colors and so on.
We rambled up the hills to the top of the highest, we ran races down, we scampered along the shore, jumping from rock to rock we declaimed all the violent appeals and defiances we could remember, commencing with
"Celestial states, immortal powers, give ear!"3
away on to the ending which announced that Richard had almost lost his wind by dint of calling Richmond to arms.4 I doubt whether these astonished echoes ever before vibrated with such terrible ado. Then we pranced forth again, like mad kine, we threw our hats in the air, aimed stones at the shrieking sea-gulls, mocked the wind, and imitated the cries of various animals in a style that beat nature all out!
We challenged each other to the most deadly combats—we tore various past passions into tatters5—made love to the girls in the divine words of Shakespeare and other poets, whereat the said girls had the rudeness to laugh till the tears ran down their cheeks in great torrents. We indulged in some impromptu quadrills, of which the "chassez"6 took each participant couple so far away from the other that they were like never to get back. We hopped like crows; we pivoted [pirouetted?] like Indian dervishes; we went through the trial dance of La Bayadere7 with wonderful vigor; and some one of our party came nigh dislocating his neck through volunteering to turn sumersaults like a circus fellow. Every body caught the contagion, and there was not a sensible behaved creature among us, to rebuke our mad antics by comparison.
1. Mr. Eels is unidentified. [back]
3. This line is a near-quotation of Alexander Pope's translation (1715-1720) of Homer's Iliad, Book 8: "Celestial states, immortal gods! give ear." [back]
4. See Richard's and Richmond's orations to their soldiers on the eve of battle in Shakespeare's Richard III, Act 5. [back]
5. See Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2, where Hamlet says, "O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters." [back]
6. Usually spelled "chasse," this is a gliding dance step. [back]
7. La Bayadere was an operatic ballet by Daniel Auber, with a libretto by Eugene Scribe. In 1836 it saw two rival stagings in New York City: it was performed in English as The Maid of Cashmere at the National Theatre, and at the same time it was performed in the original French as La Bayadere at the Park Theatre. [back]