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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 22 September 1848

We are all glad to see, in this morning's telegraphic account from your city, that agreeable little sentence, "The yellow fever1 is gradually decreasing." Although the terrible reputation of the fever is much of it fanciful, still, there is quite enough of bad about it, to make it a dreaded visiter. It is singular, however, how much alarm there is in a name. Thousands of persons have been kept away, and hundreds have been frightened away, of late, from New York, because the yellow fever existed, in the most limited manner, on Staten Island, eight miles off. At the same time, and particularly for some months previous, a deadly and malignant dysentery,2 and that frightful malady the ship fever—in both of which the deaths are more numerous, in proportion to the cases attached, than in the yellow fever—raged in the city, and in the neighborhood for many miles around. Both partook of an endemic character, and are probably more contagious than the yellow fever. Compared with the latter two, both are more tedious and far more painful. Yet the mere name of yellow fever seemed to be a spell to conjure up every thing dreadful and repulsive!

Indeed what earthly matter is there where people show a more weak judgment, than in bodily illnesses and their relative danger and cure? We at the North have our great malady in a variety of pulmonary forms, centering in the vampyre consumption. And while every body knows this well enough, yet the same habits (so favorable to a development of the disease) are pursued, the commonest precautions avoided, and the danger rushed into with the victim's eyes wide open! And still the immense steam of quackery rolls on, putting money in the purses of the pill, potion, and lotion manufacturers, and weakening the bodies and spirits of the deluded ones who trust their ills to these specifics. Truly, as the sensible physician knows, there are hardly any specifics, properly so called, in medicine. No two cases, in any ailment, are exactly alike; because the circumstances, constitutions, and detailed habits, in all particulars and forms, of no two persons are the same. Yet the modest pill-makers sometimes give us a list of fifty diseases, in their nature wide as the poles asunder, for which their little globules are a "sure cure."

We have had a taste—just the slightest taste in the world—of fall weather since my last. After a good hearty rain, the nights and mornings for the last three days have been cool enough for blankets. At the clothing stores along Maiden Lane, Park Row, and William and Fulton streets, (nor forgetting our Israelitish friends of Chatham street,) may already be seen all the varieties of cloaks, overcoats, and woolen garments, and here and there "Summer goods selling off BELOW COST!" And the shops for tin and metal ware begin to lumber up the passages with stoves of all sorts, prices and sizes—"the Cook's comfort," "the People's choice," "the treasure for housekeepers," and others with the like attractive titles.

No news, general or local, of any interest, have I to furnish you with to-day. Our military, a small portion of them, joined with those of Brooklyn two or three days ago, in rendering a military funeral to Lieut. Küne,3 killed in Mexico. This is probably the last ceremony of the sort that we will be called upon here to hold. Lieut. K. was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, that loveliest of Places of the Dead. I saw the procession return about 8 o'clock, music playing, and so forth; contrary to the usual practice, they played the most plaintive marches and held a solemn demeanor.

It is not probable that Mr. Clay's4 letter, declining any countenance to the "enthusiastic whigs" of this city, in their separate movement for him, will have the effect of really calming the troubled waters. The hearts of the whigs of this city, and most of this State, are devoted to Clay; the early support they give Gen. Taylor, is because the latter has received the regular nomination. Nor will disaffection burn less intensely because it makes no open show. The flames may be smothered, but they are there still. Party organs (on both sides) are not reliable, now, as to their statements; because, never before were the old landmarks so utterly broken up. You can tell where disaffection exists, but you can't tell where the disaffected will "go," or, indeed, whether they will vote for any body at all. This is a pretty state of things, isn't it?

We have three candidates in the field, for Governor: Mr. Fish,5 for the Whigs—Chancellor Walworth,6 for the Democrats, and John A. Dix,7 for the Barnburners.8 Dix is a man of great amiability and considerable talent; he will get a fair support, but is likely to run behind his ticket.

The stranger who perambulates around New York will be apt to notice the large number of new buildings in process of construction. Many of these, particularly up town, are of remarkable beauty and amplitude, all through, for private residences. The architectural taste of the New Yorkers has undergone a very happy improvement during the last ten years. Both here and in Brooklyn, the visiter will now behold many buildings of true proportion and noble appearance. There is, it is true, some room left for reformation. But that reformation will come, doubtless.

Howard's new hotel on Broadway, near Chambers street, attracts a good deal of attention and praise. The arrangements are indeed made on a grand scale, and the luxuries make one think of a palace; the furniture of some of the rooms is gorgeous beyond example. French's Hotel, corner of Chatham street and Frankfort—on the corner where the old groggeries and clo' shops used to cluster—(don't you recollect that middling-sized, spectacled Jew, with the tremendous hook nose, and the cap slouched down behind?)—French's new place is being enclosed. The workmen are up to the third story. It will be on the same plan as Tammany Hall, which lodging rooms, refectory, &c.; a place where "the million" can enjoy all the comforts, and many luxuries, at half the expense of the Broadway houses.

William street it building up from Chatham street where it now opens, inward; the rubbish is not yet cleared away, but when it is, the living current will pour in there mornings, and out evening, on a tall and plentiful scale. The widening and repaving of William street, has led, (how, I do not know,) to raising the grade of Frankfort street, and to the repaving of that ancient thoroughfare also. This, as you will readily imagine, has created a sort of subterraneanizing (there's a word for long breath!) of many of the old shad-ties in Frankfort street, which were not much higher than the former pavement. Of course the old tumble-downs must soon give place to more substantial places.

Thus the progress of improvement goes on. In a year or two, no doubt, they will cut a grand wide thoroughfare straight down from Broadway to Chatham street, eating into the heart of the Five Points, and lighting it up at night. That will be an innovation, indeed!



  • 1. Yellow Fever is a viral disease that can be spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes. In the nineteenth-century, Yellow fever epidemics occurred in the late summer months in the Southern United States, particularly under humid conditions and in densely populated cities. Yellow fever outbreaks occurred on an annual basis in New Orleans and resulted in thousands of deaths each year. [back]
  • 2. Dysentery is an infection and inflammation of the intestines. It causes abdominal pain and severe diarrhea with blood. Dysentery can be the result of a bacterial or a parasitic infection, and it is spread as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene. [back]
  • 3. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 4. Henry Clay (1777–1852) was an attorney who went on to serve as a United States Representative and a United States Senator from Kentucky. Clay ran for president in the elections of 1824, 1832, and 1844, and, although he was unsuccesful in his bids for the presidency, he was one of the founders of the Whig Party and of the National Republican Party. [back]
  • 5. Hamilton Fish (1808–1893), the Whig candidate for Governor of New York in 1848, won the election to become the sixteenth governor of the state, serving from 1849 to 1850. He was later elected a United States Senator from New York and served as the United States Secretary of State during the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant. [back]
  • 6. Reuben H. Walworth (1788–1867) was a lawyer and politician. He served in the War of 1812, and was elected a member of the United States House of Representatives from New York in the early 1820s. He also served as the Chancellor of New York—the highest judicial officer of the state at the time—for nineteen years. [back]
  • 7. John A. Dix (1798–1879) was a military officer and a politician who lead Union forces as a Major General during the American Civil War. He held the offices of United States Senator from New York and United States Minister to France. Although he was not elected to the office of Governor of New York in 1848, he went on to become the states twenty-fourth Governor, serving from 1873 to 1874. [back]
  • 8. Barnburners and Hunkers were terms used to describe opposing sides of the fracturing Democratic party in New York during the mid-nineteenth century. The Barnburners held radical anti-slavery views and were willing to destroy banks and corporations to end corruption and abuses. The Hunkers were pro-government; they favored state banks and minimized the issue of slavery. The divisions between these factions in New York reflected the national divisions that would lead to the American Civil War (1861–1865). [back]
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