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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 30 September 1848

Broadway, now-a-days, presents its most attractive and splendent appearance of all the year. Take a walk with me, up that far-famed thoroughfare. Cross we over from the Battery gates, to the corner where stands the residence of Mr. Ex-Mayor Mickle;1 an ancient pile, (ancient for America,) built originally for the colonial gubernatorial palace, and occupied as such by Sir Henry Clinton,2 and by the British commanders during their occupation of New York, from the disastrous week following the battle of Long Island, down to

"Evacuation day When the British ran away,"

as the old school-boy rhyme hath it. The architecture of those days was of a more permanent character than marks our hasty times. The brick walls of this old house, for instance, keep their truest perpendicular, and the ceilings their exact horizontal, without a need of repair; while many structures of far later date and more ambitious pretensions, have long since become quite dilapidated. Just off at our back is the stately row that faces the Bowling Green, and looks so superciliously up Broadway, as if announcing to the world in general that there was nothing "up there" that could hold a candle to the more time-honored dignity of houses standing on the oldest settled spots of Manhattan.

The Bowling Green Fountain—what think you of it? Ah, judge not by its present dry and desolate look. When the water gushes out and rolls over the rocks in cascadish little rills, and the big spout lifts itself as high as the tallest trees, then you might have a better opinion of this fountain. People's judgments yet remain divided about its merits; some approve the design, and others pretending to equal taste, condemn it as a vile blotch. One thing must be acknowledged by all; that what left arid and bare, the dull gray rocks, and dry bed of the surrounding excavation, make one of the most unsightly spectacles that a pair of eyes need look upon.

As we pass up Broadway, we behold numerous happy bits of solid and tasty architecture. Some eight or ten doors from Battery place, that tall dwelling's entrance is guarded by the same big lines, bronzed over, that held watch on the spot ere the former house was burnt down in the great fire of '45. Here, a few doors further, where Mrs. David Hale3 formerly kept an excellent boarding house, stands Delmonico's, with its gorgeous furniture, fit for a palace. Then comes a long row of houses, (on the left,) venerable and not over fashionable, but still inhabited by remnants of old Knickerbocker families, and of rich proprietors and merchants. To the right hand, the ground has been encroached upon since the great fires, by commercial men. The U.S. Bonded Warehouse occupied the site of the old Waverly Hotel, and some beautiful stores have been put up still further down.

Now we begin to meet the tide of fashion. Our New York belles fit along so gracefully; you may know them by that lithe and easy walk, and unmistakable dash of style and elegance. You may always confidently count on seeing a greater proportion of feminine beauty, on the Venus of Medici model, during an hour's walk along Broadway, than any where else out of Paradise. Among the men, I notice more of the cosmopolitan influence than ever; a genuine New Yorker, indeed, may be known by his possessing no characteristic trait. The peculiarities of all nations are softened and blended in him.

Trinity Church4 here lifts its head; a majestic and somber pile, whose proportions are so true and chaste that the beholder, at first, does not realize its magnitude—for that's one of the results of an exact proportion of parts, in architecture. The interior of this church is even nobler than the outside; there is a sermon even in the arched inner roof; I have often spent half an hour in roaming my eyes over that roof, and along the great rear window, which pourtrays the Saviour and Apostles, of life-size. Come along here any Sunday morning, and you will hear the bells chiming merrily; it is a pity they don't get some competent player upon them, however. Merely trolling over an octave of tones, and repeating that continually, is but a poor substitute for the real music that might be drawn from the bells. There at the entrance, just to the left, is the brave Lawrence's5 burial place and monument, a marble sarcophagus above the surface, with several cannons half buried perpendicularly around, and supporting an iron chain. On one side of the monument is the following inscription:

"The Hero whose remains are here deposited, with his dying breath expressed his devotion to his country. Neither the fury of battle—the anguish of a mortal wound—nor the horrors of approaching death, could subdue his gallant spirit. His dying words were—Don't give up the ship!"

Still wending our way onward, the current increased, becoming more dense, and its elements affords study enough just to walk Broadway, and behold the mixture of character and appearance spread over the sidewalks. The shops and their glittering wares—the foreign sights—"the fashions"—both masculine and feminine, are all together of inferior interest to the humanity one sees in Broadway:

"Youth, with pale brow and slender frame,6 And dreams of greatness in thine eye, Go'st thou to build an early name, Or, early in thy task, to die? "Keen son of trade, with eager brow, Who is now fluttering in thy snare? Thy golden fortunes, tower they now, Or melt the glittering shapes to air? "Who of this crowd to-night shall tread The dance, till daylight gleam again? Who sorrow o'er the untimely dead? Who writhe in throes of mortal pain? "Some famine-struck, shall think how long The cold dark hours, how slow the light; And some who flaunt amid the throng, Shall hide in shame to-night."

Expressive verses those, a'int they? and in Bryant's7 own concise, smooth, sculptuary style.

At our left hand and right, the windows are of thick plate glass, that seems like varnished air. Some of those panes cost hundreds of dollars; and, inside, behold the riches of all climes and arts and nations! Hats of a gloss darker than the still waters that lie in the shade of mountain chasms—patent-leather boots, ditto—garments with the royal signet of Broadway in every seam and fold—books, and such books, O they indeed are to be envied, particularly if one looks in at Wiley's or Putnam's, or Appleton's—jewelry more beautiful than Shas and Sultans ever wore, because arranged with civilized taste—and five hundred other things, and et ceteras far, far too many to mention—these line the sides of Broadway, fenced in from the operation of "communist principles" by iron sticks and the aforesaid plate glass. Let us pause a moment on the flagging before St. Paul's. This crowd, which surrounds us, as you see, is composed mostly of foreigners and country-folk. They are curiously gazing at the pictures which placard the walls of the American Museum opposite—pictures of fish, flesh and fowl, and of some objects which surely were never before seen in earth, sea or air. The "Mammoth Boys," and the "Real Tong-Gong Minstrels," are, doubtless, especially attractive—though their "counterfeit presentments" there would hardly enrapture an artist.

Perhaps the noisiest part of Broadway is from the Astor House to Chambers street. There resounds an incessant clang, like the roar of an endless battle, with dust to match, sometimes—opposite, lies the Park, with its thrifty trees, and its lovely fountain, ever gushing. Amid the rumbling, you from moment to moment distinguish the dull click of the iron gates of the Park, falling to from the myriad of in and out-goers. The massive square walls of the Astor, which ages to come will probably look upon as we look now, are adorned here and there, by the glancing out of pleasant faces from the windows—women's and children's faces. Just beyond, glimpses of it appearing through the trees, shows the dirty white of the City Hall; Justice, up aloft, as far out of the way as it was possible to put her, and where not one human being out of a thousand could possibly reach her.

So much for even a hasty transcript of a part of one's impressions in Broadway. We will reserve the rest for another epistle.



  • 1. Andrew H. Mickle (1805–1863) was the Mayor of New York City from 1846 to 1847. [back]
  • 2. Sir Henry Clinton (1730–1795) was the British Commander-in-Chief in North America. He served as a General in the American War for Independence. [back]
  • 3. Whitman may be referring to the wife of David Hale, who had edited the Journal of Commerce. She kept a boarding house called "Mrs. Hale's." [back]
  • 4. Located at the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway in Lower Manhattan, Trinity Church is a historic church in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The current church building was constructed between 1839 and 1846, and it is adjacent to the Trinity Churchyard burial ground. [back]
  • 5. James Lawrence (1781–1813), a Naval Officer, was the commander of the USS Chesapeake during the War of 1812. Lawrence was mortally wounded and was buried in Nova Scotia; he was later re-interred at Trinity Church. [back]
  • 6. These lines are from William Cullen Bryant's poem "The Crowded Street," which first appeared in Graham's Magazine in March 1843. [back]
  • 7. William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878) was famous both as a poet and as the editor-in-chief of the New York Evening Post from 1828 to 1878. [back]
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