Title: Letters from Paumanok
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: June 27, 1851
Publication information: New York Evening Post 27 June 1851: .
Source: Original issue held at the American Antiquarian Society. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00264
Contributors to digital file: Jason Stacy, Elizabeth Lorang, Vince Moran, Gertrud Elisberg Moreno, and Ed Folsom
cropped image 1
Letters from Paumanok.
GREENPORT, L. I., June 25.
THIS PLACE AND ITS SURROUNDINGS.
Swarming and multitudinous as the population of the city still is, there are many thousands of its usual inhabitants now absent in the country. Some are sent away by hot weather, many by "the prevailing custom;" others again by desire for change.
Having neither the funds nor disposition to pass my little term of ruralizing at the fashionable baths, or watering places, I am staying awhile down here at Greenport, the eastern point of the Long Island Railroad. That is, my lodging place is at Greenport; but, in truth, I "circulate" in all directions around.
Greenport is celebrated for its good harbor, its salt water, and its fish. The kind of the latter now most plentiful is the poggy, (sometimes misspelt porgie.)1 It is a good fish, and easily caught. The black fish2 are just beginning to come in. The blue fish,3 however, are the most delicious, to my taste. Cooked while perfectly fresh, and not salted till fried, or broiled, they are fit for the most refined epicure.
The fish in Peconic Bay and its neighborhood are not quite so abundant as last season. Still there are enough to reward the labor of the sportsmen.
HOW I AMUSE MYSELF.
The best amusements in a country place, by the salt water, are the cheapest. Generally, the one who takes the most trouble to obtain pleasure, gets the least, or that which is most questionable.
Now, for instance, the fields, the waters, the trees, the interesting specimens of humanity to be scared up in all quarters of this diggins—all are, for me, ministers to entertainment.
Can there be any thing of the old gossip in my composition? For I hugely like to accost the originals I see all around me, and to set them agoing about themselves and their neighbors near by. It is more refreshing than a comedy at any of the New York theatres. The very style of their talk is a treat.
Bathing in this pure, clear, salt water, twice every day, is one of my best pleasures. Generally the water is so clear that you can see to a considerable depth. I must have the bump of "aquativeness" large;4 dear to me is a souse5 in the waves. Dear, oh, dear to me is Coney Island! Rockaway, too, and many other parts of sea-girt Paumanok.
SOME FOLKS' WAY OF "GOING IN THE COUNTRY."
Now all the public houses, and not a few of the private houses, in this section of Long Island, are beginning to be filled with boarders—men, women and children—particularly the latter. It is a pity that these folks don't enjoy themselves in a more free and easy manner. They evidently preserve all the ceremoneousness of the cit—dress regularly for dinner, fear to brown their faces with the sun, or wet their shoes with the dew, or let the wind derange the well sleeked precision of their hair.
Indeed, for all the good they get, they might just as well remain in a New York or Brooklyn boardinghouse; except that they are a little more crowded here, perhaps. They hardly derive even the benefit of the pure air, for they remain in the house nearly all day.6
I am convinced that there are really very few people who know how to enjoy the country, either for its land or water accommodations. Not many even of its permanent residents do.
GENTILITY IN COUNTRY BOARDING HOUSES.
While I am upon such matters, let me give a word of advice to those who conduct the country boarding houses. People don't so much want any attempts at gentility in your places; to which they ought to come for relief from the glare and stiffness of the city. We folks from the region of pavements are too much used to pianos, fashionable carpets, mahogany chairs, to be seriously impressed by them when we go in the country. We would as leave, during the hot weather, when we stay among you, even be without carpets, pianos and flummery. Only let us have plenty of cleanliness, water by wholesale, and abundance of the rich fresh fare of your country dairy, and country gardens.
1. Also known as the menhaden or mossbunker, a commonly found fish along the Atlantic seaboard in the herring family. [back]
2. Also known as the tautog or bulldog, commonly found along Atlantic coasts from Nova Scotia to South Carolina. [back]
3. A migratory fish found on the coasts of Long Island between spring and late fall. [back]
4. "Aquativeness" is a phrenological term, which, according to Orson Squire Fowler leads to a "[f]ondess for liquids; desire to drink; love of water, washing, bathing, swimming, sailing, etc." Orson Squire Fowler, Lorenzo Niles Fowler, The Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology (New York: Fowlers and Wells, 1855), 71. [back]
5. Whitman here turns the verb "souse" (to plunge into water) into a verbal noun (a plunge in the waves). Cf. "They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch, / They do not think whom they souse with spray." Leaves of Grass (1855), 19. [back]
6. "Miasma" theories during this era held that the air in confined spaces incubated diseases and that fresh air dissipated them. [back]