Life & Letters


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Title: Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 19 December 1848

Date: December 19, 1848

Whitman Archive ID: med.00987

Source: The location of the original manuscript is unknown. Whitman's letters to Alexander Hamilton Hayes (1806–1866) and John Eliot McClure (ca. 1809–1869)—the editors of The Daily Crescent (New Orleans, Louisiana)—were published in that newspaper. The transcription presented here is derived from The Daily Crescent (29 December 1848): [1]. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schoeberlein, Zachary Turpin, Stephanie Blalock, and Jeff Hill

New York,
Dec. 19th, 1848.

Eds. Crescent

Imagine the highest state of excitement you ever saw in this city "on the eve of an important electtion," then multiply it by three, and you may realize some-thing of the California gold excitement1 now pervading nearly all classes of our "society." Since the publication of the documents accompanying the President's message, the flames have spread with tremendous intenseness, and to a very wide extent. Perhaps it is safe to say that at least one-third of the mechanics and young working-men are trying to go to California. Of course many will be unable to get the requisite means; for two or three hundreds dollars in ready cash is not as common as "common people" are themselves. Of this one-third however, a very large proportion will probably succeed, through dint of borrowing, begging, selling off, (many times at a sacrifice,) or even by more questionable means; for it has been discovered, in more than a few cases, that the California fever blinds some of its victims to the laws of strict honesty.

Gold! gold! how thou are worshipped by the human "critter"! What will not man undergo to clutch thee! And yet how truly have poets sung and philosophers said, since the world began, that thou art unable to make a man really happy! Still, a few drops of thee—say about a hundred and twenty five pounds, Troy weight, (as it is best to be specified,)—wouldn't come amiss to one who scribbles for his bread and butter. The pen may be mightier than the sword; but, candidly and without clap-trap, gold is a guid bit stronger than both pen and sword. Proof: the two latter a thousand times doubled, couldn't draw folks half so fast toward those distant shores of the Pacific, as the sight of a few shining little lumps that went off the other day to the Philadelphia Mint. But I dare say you see the same thing exemplified, in pretty nearly the same way, in New Orleans. Human nature is just the same ("with a difference") all over the world. It is the same, without the difference, in respect to greediness for the aforesaid gold.

Thus far, the session of Congress has produced no sensation. Some significant moves, it is true, have been made in the House of Representatives; but it rarely happens that the Congress which sits immediately before the advent of a new Administration takes very important steps. We here think not much of the doings at Washington. We exhausted all our available sympathies during the two months preceding the election, and look on politics for a while yet with apathy.

Still does the cholera2 linger at Staten Island, like some bore of a visiter—such as will come at times even into the editorial holy of holies. It lingers, and will not be gone, although sixty-five doctors have been down to see it. After this, no one knows what it will be able to stand, perhaps even the severest of frosts.

The destruction of the Park Theatre on Saturday night, still remains unaccounted for, as to the origin of the fire. Do you know there has long been a standing tradition that a deadly enemy of Hamblin3 has pursued him for years, moved thereto by a fiendish oath to incendiarize every theatre the said Hamblin shall control. The insurance offices ought to offer a reward for that chap, as he does them more harm than he does "the old man." My impression is clearly that Hamblin's insurance will cover his losses—though the papers state the contrary.



1. In 1848, James W. Marshall was employed by John A. Sutter to build a sawmill in what is today Coloma, California. Marshall found several pieces of gold, and the news of Marshall's discovery was the beginning of the California Gold Rush (1848–1855). The Gold Rush brought hundreds of thousands of people to California in search of gold. As a result of the rapid growth, California was able to enter the Union as a free state as part of the Compromise of 1850, while Native Californians and indigenous societies were attacked and pushed off their lands by those seeking their fortunes in gold. [back]

2. Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine that is spread through contaminated water. Cholera causes severe dehydration and diarrhea. [back]

3. Thomas Souness Hamblin (1800–1853) was a Shakespearean actor, businessman, and theatre manager. Under his management, New York City's Bowery Theatre became a successful venue for American working-class theatre. Hamblin occasionally booked opera and ballet events, but primarily produced melodramas, romances, farces, and circus acts that appealed to the working class Bowery B'hoy audiences of the Bowery district. In 1848, Hamblin bought the lease to the Park Theatre, which he renovated and reopened; however, the theatre was destroyed by fire a few months later. [back]


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