Title: Brooklyniana, No. 3
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: December 28, 1861
Publication information: Brooklyn Standard 28 December 1861: .
Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00242
Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Janel Cayer, Ashley Lawson, Liz McClurg, and Sarah Walker
cropped image 1
A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present.
AMONG the few relics left to remind the present inhabitants of Brooklyn of the days and scenes of their grand-fathers, few are more valuable than the large, somewhat time-stained picture known as "Guy's Brooklyn," of which the above is a faithful representation. This work is to be seen at the Brooklyn Institute, corner of Concord and Washington streets, and, though not attractive to the fashionable taste, will amply repay a visit from anyone who feels an interest in local antiquainism. Soon after the painting was made, in the earliest part of the present century, it was exhibited here and in New York, under the title of "A Snow Scene in Brooklyn," by F. Guy,1 of Baltimore. We have heard from an old residenter, who personally knew this Guy, that the way he used to paint his pictures was in the following manner: A position and direction were fixed upon, looking out of a window if possible, and when the place to be pictured was well conned and determined, Guy would construct a large rough frame and fix it in the window, or in such a position that it enclosed in its view whatever he wished to portray—and outside of the frame all was shut off and darkened.
He would then rapidly sketch in his outline; and it was in this manner he prepared for painting the "Snow Scene." It was made, we have been informed, from one of the old houses still standing on the North side of Front Street, a hundred feet or thereabout east of Fulton.
Front Street at that time included some of the best dwellings in Brooklyn, those of the Grahams,2 Sandses,3 Birdsalls,4 &c. These fronted toward the South, and had large gardens, sloping northward down to the river, of which they had a beautiful open view, making altogether a charming and most picturesque situation.
This picture of Guy's, we believe, was thus a literal portrait of the scene as it appeared from his window there in Front street, looking south. The houses and ground are thickly covered with snow. The villagers are around, in the performance of work, travel, conversation, etc. Some of the figures are likenesses. We have heard that the full-length portraits of Mr. Sands, Mr. Graham, Judge Garrison,5 Messrs. Titus6 Birdsall, Hicks,7 Meeker8 and Patchen,9 then leading towns-people here, are some of the principal ones in the composition.
The tract of surface represented is what now constitutes the sweep of Front street, from Fulton to Main street, and the region toward the south, in the neighborhood of what is now Brooklyn market. As to time, it is a picture of some sixty years ago—a picture of a thriving semi-country cluster of houses in the depth of winter, with driving carts, sleighs, travelers, ladies, gossips, negroes (there were slaves here in those days), cattle, dogs, wheelbarrows, poultry, etc.—altogether a picture quite curious to stand on the same spot and think of now.
We have thus attempted to give a sketch of the spot and persons commemorated in the print from Guy's composition, which, though perhaps not of superior excellence in art, is still of great value as a reminiscence to all Brooklynites. Moreover, it is in some respects not without high merit simply as a piece of composition. Its perspective appears to be capital. The sky is also good in the original work. We will add that our informant before alluded to as a personal acquaintance of Guy's told us years ago that the painter was always aided and assisted by his wife—that she, in fact, was a woman of great energy and talent, and that this picture is probably as much indebted to her hands as to her husband's.
1. The painter Francis Guy, originally from England, painted in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Baltimore. He painted many versions of the piece Winter Scene in Brooklyn between 1817 and 1820, one of which is probably the painting Whitman discusses here. [back]
2. Augustus Graham was an activist and philanthropist in Brooklyn. He founded the Apprentices' Library, which became the Brooklyn Institute and later the Brooklyn Museum of Art. His residence was situated on Front Street. [back]
3. Joshua Sands and his brother Comfort Sands were wealthy landowners in Brooklyn in the early nineteenth century. Joshua Sands also served as a representative to the U. S. Congress and as a state senator in New York. [back]
4. Birdsall was probably Thomas Birdsall, who owned a hardware store on Front Street. [back]
5. Judge (or John) Garrison was a Brooklyn butcher. [back]
6. Titus was probably Abiel Titus, whose barn and slaughterhouse were located on Front Street. [back]
7. Hicks was probably Elias Hicks, a Quaker preacher and friend of Whitman's father and grandfather. For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]
8. Meeker was probably Benjamin Meeker, who owned a house and carpentry shop on Front Street. [back]
9. Patchen was probably Jacob Patchen, who famously wore leather breeches for most of his life. He was a landowner who frequently butted heads with the authorities of Brooklyn. In 1816, he refused to put down new gravel in front of his property. In 1826, the government wanted to build a market on his land, but he refused to sell, so it was taken by force. On the day his home began being torn down, he had to be forcibly removed. [back]