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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 20 December 1848

Messrs. Editors

Let me paraphrase the first line of one of Bryant's1 poems, and say,

"The dissipating days have come, the jolliest of the year," for that's a fact, as far as New York is concerned, and I rather suspect it equally true of the dashy capital of the great Southwest. If you want to see how many balls are "set in motion," hereabout, just examine the third page of any of the popular Sunday papers; for it is a singular truth that all the dancing sprees, and theatrical entertainments, advertise in the Sunday press. Likewise it is a known fact that, among the Emeralders, (and I don't state the fact as discreditable, either,) when they get up a ball for benevolent purposes, the invitations and tickets are distributed round at Church of a Sabbath morning. We have no very splendid ball-room in New York. We have Tammany Hall, to be sure, and the large saloon of the Astor House, and the New York Hotel; but there is no really sumptuous and extensive place, on a scale commensurate with the wants of the city of America. It always seemed to me that the Broadway Tabernacle would make a noble ball-room.

Several benefits are already under way for the persons thrown out of employment by the destruction of the Park Theatre. Of course, every body is willing to assist in so good a work. By the way, I made a little mistake in my reckoning of the nett​ profits of the Simpson2 benefit; Mr. Simpson's family will receive (have received, probably,) $4000, from the Theatre, and about $500 from other sources. This is quite well.

Ah, but you Southerners should have just seen what weather New York has been blessed with, the last two days! Not spring in her warmth, not autumn in his blandness, ever outdid it! The old man, the young child, the invalid, all who could get out, were enjoying it. Unfortunately, however, the delicious time only lasted long enough to make us feel how good it was—and then left us. This morning the raw, chill air, and murky clouds overhead, are by no means pleasant.

Nothing of progress has been accomplished in the way of a Washington Monument; and my private impression is that the scheme will fall through—which I shan't be sorry to see; for no monument the present folks are likely build will one tithe come up to a proper monument to Washington. Let them build such mementos to the common heroes; our great exemplar needs none. One of the late propositions is to construct an arch over some upper part of Broadway, and put a colossal statue upon it....The late editor of the New York Globe, Mr. A. Ingraham,3 has retired from that station, and will now conduct a large radical Weekly, "The American Statesman."....Marietta Smith,4 since her return to New York, has been quite a lioness. She can hardly go out in the street, without attracting public attention to an annoying extent.....Yesterday the health officers reported two new cases of cholera,5 and two deaths; the previous day five cases. For the last week, no cases have occurred in the city.

I went in, the other day, to see Delaroche's6 painting of Napoleon7 crossing the Alps. It is grand! Never was the sublimity of nature better depicted, in all simplicity, by art! You know the ordinary engravings (from former paintings) represent Napoleon on a fiery house, the said horse twirling around on his hind legs, and standing almost perpendicularly—while the great conqueror, with a drawn sword, points his toiling soldiers onward—his cloak, drapery, in the meantime, floating with a lightness and looseness very convenient to make a showy painting, but rather chilly for the winter snows of the mountain. Well, in this painting, he is on a mule, well wadded with clothing, and guided by an old muleteer. I stood an hour and gazed on that picture; and if I were to attempt describing the feelings that passed through my mind then, every body would laugh at me.

Hundreds of sloops, steamboats, and barges, are busily engaged now, bringing produce down the river, anticipative of the ice that must soon close the passage up above...Fires, many of them undoubtedly incendiary, still continue to vex the public peace. Hardly a night passes without one or more....The musical furor has somewhat subsided—nearly all the German bands having departed for other cities. The opera, it seems, is doing remarkably well, this season; although the Herald continues its spiteful attacks, (because Mr. Fry8 will neither give Mr. Bennett9 the printing nor a free ticket!)...No cessation, but rather an increase, is developed by each succeeding day, to the gold fever. You may see by looking at the shipping advertisements of our morning papers, what a rush there is. The knowing ones are all going round Cape Horn. A gentleman is in town who has had to return from Chagres, because he couldn't get across Panama, on account of the crowd.

Business is brisk enough now, in view of the approaching holydays. The retail shops make a great show of goods, and the shopkeepers seem to be in an especially good humor. The jobbers have had a profitable fall trade, and still keep up a lingering of custom; and the importers are all smiles, because they too have "done well." Every body is expecting, somehow, to get a dip into those cargoes of California gold.10 Well, I hope they won't be disappointed.



  • 1. 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]
  • 2. Edmund Simpson (1784–1848) was an English actor and theatre manager. He worked alongside Stephen Price (1782–1840) who leased the Park Theatre in New York, and, after Price's death, Simpson became the sole manager. Simpson held the position until 1848, when he retired; he died later that year. [back]
  • 3. Abijah Ingraham was a newspaper editor who retired from The New York Globe in 1848 and then began editing a radical weekly titled The American Statesman. [back]
  • 4. Marietta Smith was a young schoolteacher at the Normal School on Grand Street in New York. Smith made headlines after she went missing; her parents feared she had been abducted. However, she was later found in Boston, where she visited friends and had been learning dressmaking ("Miss Marietta Smith," Buffalo Weekly Republic, December 19, 1848, 3). [back]
  • 5. Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine that is spread through contaminated water. Cholera causes severe dehydration and diarrhea. [back]
  • 6. Paul Delaroche (1797–1856) was a French painter who was known for his art depicting historical scenes. [back]
  • 7. Bonaparte Crossing the Alps is an oil painting by French painter Paul Delaroche. The painting depicts Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1825), the military leader who, after the French Revolution, became the first Emperor of France—Napoleon I—from 1804 to 1815. [back]
  • 8. Edward P. Fry was an impresario and the manager and Director of the Italian Opera Company. [back]
  • 9. James Gordon Bennett Sr. (1796–1872) was the founder of the New York Herald and a well-known newspaperman. [back]
  • 10. 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]
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