Title: Sun-Down Papers
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: July 20, 1841
Publication information: Long-Island Farmer 20 July 1841: .
Source: Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of an original issue.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00316
Contributors to digital file: Vince Moran, Jason Stacy, and Kevin McMullen
cropped image 1
SUN-DOWN PAPERS.—[NO. X]
FROM THE DESK OF A SCHOOL-MASTER.
We had all made up our minds to take a jaunt in the south bay; and accordingly at the appointed morning, about sunrise might have been seen wending their way towards the place of rendezvous, the various members of our party. There were Bromero, with his clam-rake, and narrow-brimmed straw hat; Senor Cabinet, with sedate face, and an enormous basket, containing a towel, fishing tackle, and incalculable quantities of provisions; Captain Sears with his usual pleasant look; one of the Smith family with a never failing fund of good humor; Kirbus, with his gun, breathing destruction to snipe, and sea-fowl generally; and other personages whose number will prevent their being immortalized in this veracious history.
Having first stowed our persons away in the wagons provided for that purpose, we started for the shore, fifteen precious souls in all; not forgetting to place in safe situation, various baskets, kettles, jugs, bottles, and nondescript vessels, of whose contents we knew not as yet. We hoisted the American flag on a clam-rake handle, and elevated it in the air, very much to our own pleasure, and the edification no doubt of all patriotic beholders. Thus riding along it was discovered by an inquisitive member of our party, that one of us, a married man, had come from home without his breakfast; whereupon an inquiry was instituted that resulted in bringing out the astounding fact that every married man in the company was in the like predicament. An evil-disposed character among us was ungallant enough to say, that the fact was a fair commentary on matrimonial comfort.
When we arrived at the point of embarkation, we found a tight clean boat, all ready for us, with Sailor Bright to superintend the navigation of the same.—Having snugly ensconced ourselves therein, by no means forgetting the baskets, jugs &c., afore-mentioned, we boldly put forth into the stream, and committed our lives to the mercy of the wind and waves. We reached the mouth of the creek, with no adventure of any importance, except that Kirbus came very near getting a wild duck who was seen foraging on the waves not far from us; it would have been very easy to have got him, if Kirbus had shot him. I had like to have forgot mentioning that Senor Cabinet got the tail of his black coat quite wet by dragging it in the salt water, as he was seated on the gunwale of the boat.
We had brought a musical instrument with us, and accordingly in due time we proceeded to give some very scientific specimens of the concord of sweet sounds. The popular melodies of 'Auld Lang Sayne,' and 'Home, sweet Home,' were sung with great taste and effect.—Thus the time passed away very pleasantly until we arrived at the beach; when some of us dashing boldly through the water to dry land—and the more effeminate being carried thither on the back of Sailor Bright, we started forth to visit the other side, whereon the surf comes tumbling, like lots of little white pigs playing upon clean straw. Before we went thither, however, I must not forget to record that we were entertained with some highly exquisite specimens of Shakespearian eloquence by one of our company, formerly a member of the "Spouting Club;" and, therefore, entitled to be called a whaler.
Having arrived at the surf, a portion of our party indulged themselves in the luxury of a bathe therein.1 The rest returned to the boat, and forthwith each arming himself with a clam-rake, did valourously set to work a-scratching up the sand at no small rate. After a while, the individual before spoken of, as belonging to the Smith family, not feeling contented with his luck where he was, did, in company with another discontented personage, betake himself off in the little skiff, which had accompanied our larger vessel. He rowed most manfully, for half a mile, to a place where he thought he could catch one clam, and then was contented to return from whence he came. Thus was exemplified in the fortunes of this Smith individual, the truth of the old maxim: "Let well enough alone."2
But my limits will not allow me to expatiate upon the events of this interesting voyage. I shall therefore not say a word about the astonishing appetite of Senor Cabinet; or the fun we had in Bromero's laughable stories; or how a hat belonging to one of our chaps, blew off into the wide waters, and was recovered again by the Smith individual, but with the loss of a short necked pipe, which had for many days before been safely kept therein. Nor shall I tell how we cut up divers clams into small bits, and thrust the said bits upon fish-hooks, and let down the said hooks by long lines into the water, and then sat patiently holding the lines, in the vain hope of nabbing some stray members of the finny tribe.
Passing over all these, and other like important matters, I shall wind up the most accurate account by saying, that we returned home perfectly safe in body, sound in limb, much refreshed in soul, and in perfect good humour and satisfaction one with another.
P.S.—I came very near forgetting to say, that some of us had our faces highly improved in colour, and that Kirbus, and others of the married men, after we came ashore, bought several shillings' worth of eels and clams, probably in order to ward off the danger that would inevitably have followed their return empty-handed.
1. Compare this description to the description of the "Twenty-eight bathers" in Leaves of Grass: "Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore, / Twenty-eight young men, and all so friendly, [ . . . ]The beards of the young men glistened with wet, it ran from their long hair, / Little streams passed all over their bodies." Leaves of Grass (1855) [back]
2. Whitman here could be quoting a popular slogan of the Loco-focos, a free trade and low tariff wing of the Democratic Party in New York. See Douglas Noverr, Jason Stacy eds., Walt Whitman's Selected Journalism (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2015), 186. [back]