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Title: [Yesterday was dull]

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: April 19, 1842

Publication information: New York Aurora 19 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.00390

Contributors to digital file: Kaleb Weaver, Keenen Adams, Jordan Walters, Jason Stacy, and Kevin McMullen




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Yesterday was dull, stupid, misty, cold, wet, and disagreeable in every respect. We dawdled through the earlier hours, those between breakfast and dinner time—and at the period of present writing can call to mind no occurrence worthy being noted down in this article, (which we intend, before we get through to make very interesting and very amusing)

That was an observant French writer who, perpetrating a novel, commenced it somewhat thus wise.—In one of the horrible months when fogs and damps fill the atmosphere, and Englishmen, by dozens, commit suicide.1 We say he was an observant and a wise fellow who wrote this; for gentle reader, whether you have ever observed it or no, there is an intimate connection between lowering weather and love of laudanum—between heavy air and hysterics, (sagacious corollaries, those, ain't they?)2

Such a day as yesterday, for instance, who, if ever so easily satisfied, could be in love with life? Mud and slops made every thoroughfare impassable; and a strange, mysterious kind of stagnating influence spread far and near, in doors as well as out. What man with nerves and obtusities strong enough to defy that influence? Assuredly not hapless we—we ape but moral flesh and blood.

Then came a voice, like that which, eld, struck the ear of the apostolic John—saying, Write.

The New York Aurora is a periodical issued every morning, from Nassau street, near Tammany Hall. It professes to give news, with the various phrases of life, and all the etceteras that are needful to appertain. Most of the principal articles are concocted by one Whitman, whilome3 little known in these diggings; which latter part of the category is daily becoming more and more oblivious. It requires no great stretch of ingenuity to suppose that in order to keep some eight or ten compositors employed, a man's pen might fly glibly, and still be by no means too much in a hurry. Something or other must be "set up."

Having thus explained, (it is always best to begin at the beginning, and make a clear sweep,) the field is now fair before us.

In the arrangements for the New York Aurora, an uncontrollable law exists, (immutable, like the edicts of the Medes and Persians, which alter not,) that every paper should have a leader.4 A leader is always expected to be something particularly well written, and particularly worth reading. We hope we have now made the whole matter sufficiently lucid.

In writing, it is occasionally requisite to have ideas. The reader will note that we say occasionally necessary; we might subject our veracity to malignant aspersions, did we not distinctly make this semi reservation. Furthermore, that there can be very fine writing, without ideas, the history of literature affords many brilliant examples. It might seem a piece of vanity for us to arrest that attention of the lady or gentleman who does us the honor of perusing our Aurora, here.

We commenced this essay by some remarks upon the state of the weather, during the twenty-four hours previous to twelve o'clock, midnight, last. To speak of weather argues, perhaps, no great loftiness of ideas, or aspiration of intellect. Observations upon that subject, indeed, are rather common, than otherwise. For illustration—Suppose Higgins meets Snuggs:

"Wet day," says Higgins.

"Bad for coughs," rejoins Snuggs.

"Very bad," answers Higgins, looking abstractedly up aloft the murkiness.

"Fine weather last Saturday," continues Higgins, by way of suggesting something very new and bright.

"Great change from this," replies Snuggs, determined not to let his companion go ahead in originality.

"So it is," says Higgins, as if the fact had never struck him half so forcibly before.

"Dark days are not as fine as sunshiny ones," answers Higgins.

Apparently, the other considers this remark incontrovertible; for he looks up at the clouds again, and utters not a word.

"Wind will change tomorrow," asserts Higgins.

Here is a chance, where, as the politicians, men may honestly differ in opinion.

"Don't think so," replies Snuggs.

"Certainly will," reasserts Higgins.

"Altogether impossible," re-replies Snuggs.

&c., &c., &c.

We presume the reader, as his or her eye glances over the dialogue, will conclude it, without demur, to be a "sketch from real life."5

Undoubtedly, no person can now have any reason for doubting that the weather is, by custom, a legitimate theme for persons to exercise their voices (and pens) upon.

The thing is done—the leader is prepared! Laus Deo!6


Notes:

1. It is unclear to whom Whitman is referring. [back]

2. Whitman highlights connections between terrible weather and despair, even suicide. Some mid-nineteenth century individuals committed suicide by drinking an entire bottle of laudanum (a medication, alcoholic beverage, or any other preparations with opium as its main ingredients). See: Samuel Burgess, Historical illustrations of the origin and progress of the passions, and their influence on the conduct of mankind: with some subordinate sketches of human nature and human life (London: Longman, 1825), 2: 62; and The Medico-chirurgical Review and Journal of Medical Science 3, (1823), 428. For further reading on laudanum, see: Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, American Journal of Pharmacy 7, (1835): 127; and Barbara Hodgson, In the Arms of Morpheus: The Tragic History of Laudanum, Morphine and Patent Medicines (Buffalo: Firefly Books, 2001). [back]

3. "Formally; once; of old" (Noah Webster, John Walker, An American Dictionary of the English Language [New York, N. and J. White, 1839], 924). Whitman uses an old English spelling of the word "willome." In Webster's 1840 Dictionary, "whilome" was spelled without the "–e" ("whilom") and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "whilome" was spelled with the "–e" before the 17th century. After the 17th century, the spelling was changed and the "-e" was no longer used. [back]

4. "Leaders" represented the daily opinions of the editor, and usually the publisher, on news-worthy topics or subjects of general interest. In the Aurora "leaders" appeared after the masthead in the first column on page two. [back]

5. The "Sketch of Real Life" was a nineteenth-century trope used by many authors to present a humorous and/or edifying tale. Examples of stories are: John Simpson, Smiles and Tears; or, Sketches from Real Life (London: Thomas King, 1857); Robert Waterson, A Widow's Son: A Sketch from Real Life (Boston: James Munroe, 1843); and John Young, "A Modern Zantippe; or, A Sketch from Real Life," in John Young, Literary recreations; or, Scenes from real life (London: Whittaker, 1833). [back]

6. Latin for "Praise (be) to God" (Oxford English Dictionary). [back]


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