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Title: From a Travelling Bachelor

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: January 6, 1850

Whitman Archive ID: per.00301

Source: New York Sunday Dispatch 6 January 1850: [1]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. Original issue held at the Library of Congress. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Vince Moran, Jason Stacy, Gertrud Elisberg, Elizabeth Lorang, and Kenneth M. Price




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From a Travelling Bachelor.

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Letter XI.

———

SOME DIMINUENDOS (ORIGINAL,) PICKED UP DURING INTERMISSIONS OF TRAVEL, OR WHILE "WAITING FOR THE BOAT."

TESTS OF TRAVELLERS.—You may know an Englishman of whom there is always a good portion in our public conveyances—by his brusque and vacant air—sovereignly indifferent to the fact of any one's existence, near by, except his own. The German is generally unaffected, and, though never officious, is always good-humored, and responds to any call on his civility. Frenchman are more gratuitously polite. The highly bred Irishman, and the educated American seem to me the pinks of travellers. Women invariably have a better travelling behavior than men.

A WELL-KNOWN FACT EXPLAINED.—It is acknowledged that in the United States people get rich faster than in any other country. It is calculated by some statistician that there are eleven millions of Advertisements published annually in the American newspapers. Isn't the second fact a satisfactory explanation of the first?

THE LAW'S DELAY.—Over two hundred cases are on the docket of the Supreme Court of the United States, at Washington. The Court decides about thirty cases, annually, on average; while from fifty to seventy new ones ask audience of it every year.

PARIS NEWSPAPERS.—We make the following extract from the letter of a friend—a practical "type," now in the French capital:

"Cheap newspapers are now common in Paris. There are thirty dailies. Unfortunately the publishing business is very insecure; if you say anything the government dislikes, your forms are knocked into pi, and your press pitched in the street."1

SOMETHING OF A CUSTOMER.—England, during the last twenty-seven years, has paid the United States over Fifteen Hundred Millions of Dollars, for the single article of Cotton.

COUSINLY SPITE.—A well-known attack upon America in the Foreign Quarterly Review2, supposed to be from Charles Dickens asserts that—

"The ruling maxim of the life of Mr. Sampson Brass's father, Suspect Every Body, is now the dominant fashion of the Republic.3 On the side of the People, it sprang from their too close proximity to the election of their chief magistrate: from that of the President, it received in some sort justification and means of growth, by that too immediate contact with popular breath which dims the most stainless reputation: but it is the newspapers that, through every smallest function of the State, have made it what it is."

The first charge was never made against the American people before—and will not be relied on by any body, except a very ignorant and bigoted man. Our national folly, indeed, is too much confidence. The prime cause of the business disarrangements which in times past have operated, and now operate to a degree over the land, is, that men have placed a blind faith in one another, and in institutions that, results prove, were not worthy that faith. How warmly do we receive all the eminent men who come to us from the Old World! What a long list of ridiculous capers are annually enacted in compliment to every foreign nation? We do not suspect;—we receive the stranger with open arms—and smile as he seats himself under the protection of our banner, and prepares to enjoy the blessings of our wide land and free government, on equal grounds with ourselves. We have thrown the doors far open, and with a generosity which no European nation parallels, we take those who come to us by the hand, not merely to bestow a few of our good gifts, but all—a voice in our elections—free chance with us for wealth and honor, and, in many cases, exemption from burdens that rest on our own shoulders.

The "close proximity," spoken of by the English writer, is one of the finest and most admirable traits of the American Government. The Englishman, we have little doubt, cannot see its beauty.

NEW AMERICAN AUTHORESS.—Mrs. Emma D. M. Southworth, (whose novel of "Retribution" was published a few months ago by the Harpers,) is a new American authoress, of unusual native grace and vigor.4 With a very little more practice, and the exercise of—what is perhaps hard to a female writer—condensation, she will take rank among the best literary women of the land.

INSANITY.—It is a curious fact in reference to the insane, that each of that unfortunate class appears to be sane upon some points. Is it not equally a fact, with reference to those we call sane, that each appears to be insane upon some point?

CANADA.—A writer in a Washington print argues that if Canada should be annexed to the United States, the runaway slaves from the South would be hunted up and returned, according to "the compromises of the constitution." The idea is consistent with law, perhaps; and yet we wouldn't give a dime for all the wool and ivory that comes back from the north in the way mentioned.

LOCALITIES OF THE SENSE OF TASTE.—Writers upon such subjects say that the perception, to the taste, of sweet, lies at the edges of the tongue—of bitter, at its root—and of sour, or acids, at the tip. This may be all true enough, but it is a curious theory; any one, however, can test it for himself.

NEW THEORY OF DREAMS.—The old theory of Dreams is, that the faculty or tendency most active during waking hours, continues to operate on the subject after he falls asleep and dreams. A modern physiologist, however, argues that the dreamer is generally under control of organs that have not been exercised enough in the day, and which seize an opportunity to make it up when the Lord of the Palace of the Mind nods upon his throne.

YOUTH OF LIFE, ON THE YOUTH OF THE DAY AND THE YEAR.—"How glorious," (so ran the thoughts in the heart of an intellectual boy,) "How glorious appears the earth, of a fine spring morning! I am but in the beginning of life, and my heart has not lost its sympathy with the cheerful and bright in nature. Then there is—for there must be—so much to make a man happy on earth; there is love, there is enjoyment. One should pluck only the pleasant branches; what need of taking the ill-favored thorns?"

How many thousands of boys have had such trains of imaginings—as they stood, eager, cheerful, and confident, on the portals of manhood! How many thousands of men have looked back on such thoughts—some with smiles, some with sorrow, some with anger. But all have looked back with that compassion one feels for one's own unreasonable vagaries.


Notes:

1. "Pi" was a colloquial term given to pieces of type by printers. When a set page of type was knocked over or dropped, it was "knocked into pi" (Thomas W. Caskey, Caskey's Book: Lectures on Great Subjects, Selected from the Numerous Efforts of that Powerful Orator and Nobel Veteran of the Cross, ed. George Gatewood Mullins [St. Louis: John Burns Publishing, 1884], 275). [back]

2. "The Newspaper Literature of America," The Foreign Quarterly Review, 30.1 (October 1843), 213. [back]

3. Sampson Brass was an unscrupulous lawyer from Charles Dickens's novel The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841). The quote is ascribed to his father, Foxey. [back]

4. Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth (1819–1899). Retribution was her first book and was initially published serially in the New Era in 1849. [back]


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