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Title: [Reader, we fear you have]

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: April 6, 1842

Publication information: New York Aurora 6 April 1842: [2].

Source: Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.

Whitman Archive ID: per.00378

Contributors to digital file: Amanda Kapper, Shane Lewis, Joe Harla, Jason Stacy, and Kevin McMullen




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☞ Reader, we fear you have, by way of novelty, a poor Aurora this morning. We felt dull and inactive all yesterday, "pottered" as Fanny Kemble would express it,1 during the earlier hours of the day; and after dinner, (we dine at 2) and chatting fifteen minutes, (for the benefit of digestion) we came round to our accustomed editorial nook, and took up the pen, intending to dash into Bishop Hughes,2 Webster,3 or Justice Matsell,4 and knock those worthies into a disarranged chapeau.5 But it was no go! We had the pleasant influences of a good dinner moving through our breast to love everything, and be indulgent toward every body, (O! Mrs. C.6 you little know what power you and the cook down below have upon the popular pulse, as said pulse is acted on through Aurora!) and so we repented us, and politely desisted from our pugnacious intentions.

Then, finding it impossible to do any thing either in the way of "heavy business," or humor, we took our cane, (a heavy, dark, beautifully polished, hook ended one,) and our hat, (a plain, neat, fashionable black one, from Banta’s, 130 Chatham street, which we got gratis, on the strength of giving him this puff,) and sauntered forth to have a stroll down Broadway to the Battery.7 Strangely enough, nobody stared at us with admiration—nobody said "there goes the Whitman, of Aurora!"8—nobody ran after us to take a better, and a second better look—no ladies turned their beautiful necks and smiled at us—no apple women became pale with awe9—no news boys stopped, and trembled, and took off their hats, and cried "behold the man what uses up the great Bamboozle!"10—no person wheeled out of our path deferentially—but on we went, swinging our stick, (the before mentioned dark and polished one,) in our right hand—and with our left hand tastily thrust in its appropriate pocket, in our frock coat, (a grey one.)

Well, (are you interested, dear reader?) in due time we arrived at the ponderous iron gates which give ingress to the Battery. We entered. We strolled along—casting a side glance now and then at a beautiful green that was just "being put on" by the grass—and arrived, after a while, at the south extreme of Gotham’s glorious promenade. Then we turned. We walked slowly and lazily back, enjoying the fresh air, and the delicious sunshine, and the intoxicating sweetness of the beauty of nature that appeared all around.

A number of children were at play—some kind of a game which required that they should take each others' hands and spread themselves so as to make a large ring. When we came up, they were just in the crisis of their game, and occupying clear across the walk.

"Ah!" said one, with a peevish air, to a companion, "we shall have to break the line. There comes a gentleman."

The boy spoken to was a fine, handsome fellow, of twelve or thirteen years. He turned and looked at us for a moment; then the expression changed, and his face greeted ours with an arch confiding smile, as much as to say "I know, my dear sir, you are too good natured to disturb us, merely to save the trouble of turning out a step!" It is needless to add, we did turn out. What wonderful powers children have of discriminating who is possessed of a courteous, kindly, manful and creditable disposition!

Then we came up, and out, and along Broadway, to whence we started. And for the next two or three hours, we possess no recollection of having done any thing in particular. And at half past 8, P.M. (fifteen minutes before this present writing) the chilling consciousness came over us that we hadn't written anything for a leader. And so we concocted this foregoing (what were you about, at half past 8, last night, dear reader?)

And all we have to add is, that if you read it over a second time you will find more meaning in it, by far, than you might at first imagine.


Notes:

1. "Pottered" can mean both to "move or walk slowly, idly, or aimlessly" or to "occupy oneself in an ineffectual or trifling way" (Oxford English Dictionary). Born Frances Anne Kemble (1809–1893), Fanny Kemble was a London-born actress and writer who came to the United States in 1832 (H. G. Adams, Cyclopædia of Female Biography Consisting of Sketches of All Women Who Have Been Distinguished by Great Talents, Strength of Character, Piety, Benevolence, or Moral Virtue of Any Kind... [London: G. Routledge and Sons, 1869]). "Potter" was a term used very commonly by Kemble in her writings. For example: "After dinner, [I] pottered about, and dressed at once" (159). To access this example and others of her use of the term "potter" see: Fanny Kemble, Journal of a Residence in America (Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1835) 34, 39, 126, 155, 160, 189, 206, 216, 223. [back]

2. John Hughes (1797–1864) was a Catholic, Irish–born bishop and later archbishop of New York. He fought vigorously against the use of the Kings James Bible in public schools by the Public School Society (John Hughes, Life of Archbishop Hughes: With a Full Account of His Funeral, Bishop McCloskey's Oration, and Bishop Loughlin's Month's Mind Sermon. Vol. 1 [New York: The American News Company, 1864], 7–11). For further reading on Bishop Hughes and the Public School Society see: Martin L. Meenagh, "Archbishop John Hughes and the New York Schools Controversy of 1840–43," American Nineteenth Century History 5, no. 1 (2004): 34–65. [back]

3. Daniel Webster (1782–1852) was a prominent Whig politician from Massachusetts and greatly opposed Democrat Andrew Jackson and Democrats in general. From 1841–1843, Webster served as Secretary of State under President John Tyler (Henry Cabot Lodge, Daniel Webster [Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1899], 200–54). For further reading on Webster see: Sydney Nathans, "Daniel Webster, Massachusetts Man," The New England Quarterly 39 (2), 161–81. [back]

4. George W. Matsell (1811–1877) was a Democrat who, in 1840, was appointed police commissioner of New York City at 31 years old, making him the youngest individual to ever receive the appointment (William Hunt, American Biographical Panorama [Albany, NY: Printed by J. Munsell, 1849], 446–47). [back]

5. A hat or other covering for the head (Oxford English Dictionary). [back]

6. Whitman here is probably referring to his landlady, a Mrs. Chipman. See Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman: Song of Himself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 61. [back]

7. The Battery is a historic site at the end of Broadway so-named for the Dutch artillery that defended Manhattan in the 17th century. [back]

8. Almost all journalism during this period was published without a byline. Whitman almost universally followed this standard in his journalism, but in this case, inserted himself in the text. He would later employ a similar technique in his poetry, famously publishing the first edition of Leaves of Grass with no byline or authorship attribution on the title page, instead inserting himself in the poem that would later be called "Song of Myself." [back]

9. Women who sell apples. [back]

10. The "great Bamboozle" is in reference to an act of plagiarism in which a novel, "Zanoni," published in the New World, turned out to be the same as a novel entitled "Zicci," published in the New York Visiter several years prior. The incident was reported in an earlier issue of the Aurora, where it was noted that the plagiarized piece went "word for word, and line for line; occasionally patches were transposed and altered, so as to prevent too great a similarity." For more, see: "The Great Bamboozle!—A Plot Discovered!—", Aurora, Mar. 28, 1842. [back]


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