Title: Brooklyniana, No. 39
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: November 1, 1862
Publication information: Brooklyn Standard 1 November 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. 319–321. The date of the article is from Joel Myerson, Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00239
Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Janel Cayer, Ashley Lawson, Liz McClurg, and Sarah Walker
A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present.
Difficulty of a dinner.—A night scene on the bay.—Return the next morning.—A good spot to go to.
MOST appaling news met us on the return from this nice exercise! Our master of the revels had utterly failed to negotiate a dinner for us at the cottage!— Three several parties had been in advance of ours, that day, and had eaten up the last crumb in the house! Wasn't this enough to make Rome howl?1
But it was no time to howl any more—we had already sharpened our appetites quite enough by that sort of sport. Something must be done, and quickly. A very fat, tender, plump-looking young woman was already trying to hide herself from the ravenous looks of two or three of the most alimentarily developed of our party, when we luckily spied a flock of well-grown chickens feeding near the cottage door. We had still lots of bread and butter aboard the sloop. Moreover, were there not the freshest and finest fish to be bought within stone-throw? And couldn't we get potatoes from that garden, and onions likewise? And what was better than chowder?
Our almost collapsed hearts now bounded up again like young colts. We proceeded in solid phalanx to the landlady—the Mrs. Light-house Keeper—and with an air which showed we were not going to stand on trifles, gave voice to our ultimatum. The landlady attempted to demur, but the major domo loudly proposed that if all else failed, we should eat the landlady herself; and this motion being passed by acclamation, the good woman gave in.
Six fat pullets had their heads off in as many minutes, and shortly afterwards we made a solemn procession down to the water, each man carrying a part of the provender, in its raw state. For we determined to cook our meal on board the sloop, and owe no thanks to those inhospitable shores. Our faithful major, at the head, carried a large sea-bass; next followed the young sailor with the six headless chickens, whose necks, (like Pompey's statue,2) all the while ran blood; next the fat girl with a splendid head of cabbage, behind whom marched the continuation of us, each furnished with something to make up the feast. Toward the rear came I, possessed of a stew-pan, purchased at a great price, and borne by me, I hope, with appropriate dignity.
All worked to a charm. Amid laughter, glee, and much good sport, (though I and the fat girl cried bitterly, peeling onions,) we cooked that dinner. And O ye Heavens, and O thou sun, that looked'st upon that dinner with a glow just as thou wast dipping thy red face below the western horizon—didn't we enjoy it? The very waters were as quiet as a stone floor, and we made a table by placing three boards on some barrels, and seats by other boards on half barrels. But the strangest part of all is that when we got through there were fragments enough to rival the miraculous remains of the feast of five loaves and two fishes.3 I shall remember that dinner to my dying day.
We pulled up stakes, and put for home. But we had over-staid our time, and the tide too. Night came on. It was calm, clear and beautiful. The stars sparkled, and the delicate figure of the new moon moved down the west like a timid bride. I spread a huge bear-skin on the deck, and lay flat on it, and spoke not a word, but looked at the sky and listened to the talk around me. They told love stories, and ghost stories, and sang country ditties; but the night and the scene mellowed all, and it came to my ears through a sort of moral distillation; for I fear, under other circumstances, 'twould have appeared stale and flippant to me. But it did not then; indeed quite the contrary.
I made my bed in the furled sail, watching the stars as they twinkled, and falling asleep so. A stately and solemn night, that, to me, for I was awake much, and saw the countless armies of heaven marching stilly in the space up there, marching stilly and slowly on, and others coming up out of the east to take their places. Not a sound, not an insect, interrupted the exquisite silence, nothing but the ripple of the water against the sides of the vessel.
Sunrise found us alive and stirring. We he-creatures departed for an island near by, on whose sedgy creeks there was the look of wild birds. Over the sand, here, we issued a second edition of the proceedings on the hills and shores of Montauk. But, owing to the absence of the terraqueous girls, we didn't have as good a time. After all, what a wretched place this earth would be without the petticoats!
A plentiful breakfast was ready when we returned; the Lord only knows whence came all the viands, for they appeared to rise, like Venus, from the froth of the sea.4 However, I asked no questions, but ate thankfully.
Up sails, then, and away!—a clear sky still overhead, and a dry, mild wind to carry us before it. I was astonished at the amount of vitality that resides in man, and woman too. One would have thought the exertions and outpourings we had performed within the last twenty hours should have left us cooled down a little. Angels bless you, sir! 'twas no such thing. Fast and loud rose the voices again, the clear upper notes of the girls, and laughter and singing. We knew we should soon be home—down amid the clouds and commonplaces—and we determined to make the most of it. And we did.
Ah, I despair of putting upon paper any true description of that condensed Babel. Our shouts transpierced the wounded air. Even the dullest of us seemed filled with mental quicksilver which rose higher and higher, until there seemed some chance of not enough being left in our heels to anchor us fast upon earth. Truly those were wonderful hours!
We hove in sight of the steeples and white paint of home, and soon after, the spirits we had served deserted us. (There was no brandy aboard, mind, and hadn't been.) We landed at the dock, and went up to the village, and felt the tameness of respectable society setting around us again. Doubtless it was all right; but as for me, I fancied I felt the mercury dwindling down, down, down into the very calves of my legs.
In conclusion, it must be confessed that the east end of Long Island, for a summer journey, affords better sport, greater economy, and a relief from the trammels of fashion, beyond any of the fashionable resorts or watering places, and is emphatically a good spot to go to, as many of our Brooklynites have long since discovered.
1. This phrase comes from Robert Montgomery Ward's popular 1831 play The Gladiator, written for Edwin Forrest, one of Whitman's favorite actors. Forrest's memorable rendition of Spartacus's line, "We will make Rome howl for this," led to the line's becoming a popular catch-phrase in the mid-nineteenth century. See William Rounseville Alger, The Life of Edwin Forrest (New York: Lippincott, 1877), 2:649. [back]
2. Julius Caesar's betrayal and murder took place at the foot of Pompey's Statue in Rome. [back]
3. See the Biblical story (Luke 9) of Jesus providing a feast for 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. [back]
4. In Greek mythology, Venus was born as a fully grown woman and rose from the sea. [back]