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Revenge and Requital; A Tale of a Murderer Escaped





THAT section of Nassau-street which runs into the great mart of New York brokers and stock-jobbing, has for a long time been much occupied by practitioners of the law.3 Tolerably well known amid this class some years since, was Adam Covert,4 a middle aged man of rather limited means, who, to tell the truth, gained more by trickery than he did in the legitimate and honorable exercise of his profession. He was a tall, bilious-faced widower; the father of two children; and had lately been seeking to better his fortunes by a rich marriage. But somehow or other his wooing did not seem to thrive well, and, with perhaps one exception, the lawyer's prospects in the matrimonial way were hopelessly gloomy.

Among the early clients of Mr. Covert, had been a distant relative, named Marsh, who, dying somewhat suddenly, left his son and daughter, and some little property to the care of Covert, under a will drawn up by that gentleman himself. At no time caught without his eyes open, the cunning lawyer, aided by much sad confusion in the emergency which had caused his services to be called for, and disguising his object under a cloud of technicalities, inserted provisions in the will giving himself an almost arbitrary control over the property and over those for whom it was designed. This control was even made to extend beyond the time when the children would arrive at mature age. The son, Philip, a spirited and high-tempered fellow, had some time since passed that age. Esther, the girl, a plain and somewhat devotional young woman, was in her nineteenth year.

Having such power over his wards, Covert did not scruple openly to use his advantage, in pressing his claims as a suitor for Esther's hand.5 Since the death of Marsh, the property he left, which had been in real estate, and was to be divided equally between the brother and sister, had risen to very considerable value; and Esther's share was, to a man in Covert's situation, a prize very well worth seeking. In all this time, while really owning a respectable income, the young orphans often felt the want of the smallest sums of money, and Esther, on Philip's account, was more than once driven to various contrivances—the pawn-shop, sales of her own little luxuries, and the like, to furnish him with means.

Though she had frequently shown her guardian unequivocal evidence of her aversion, Esther continued to suffer from his persecutions, until one day he proceeded farther and was more pressing than usual. She possessed some of her brother's mettlesome temper, and gave him an abrupt and most decided refusal. With dignity she exposed the baseness of his conduct, and forbade him ever again mentioning marriage to her. He retorted bitterly, vaunted his hold on her and Philip, and swore an oath that unless she became his wife, they should both thenceforward be penniless. Losing his habitual self-control in his exasperation, he even added insults such as women never receives from any one deserving the name of man, and at his own convenience left the house. That day, Philip returned to New York, after an absence of several weeks on the business of a mercantile house in whose employment he had lately engaged.

Toward the latter part of the same afternoon, Mr. Covert was sitting in his office, in Nassau-street, busily at work, when a knock at the door announced a visitor, and directly afterward young Marsh entered the room. His face exhibited a peculiar pallid appearance that did not strike Covert at all agreeably, and he called his clerk from an adjoining room, and gave him something to do at a desk near by.

"I wish to see you alone, Mr. Covert, if convenient," said the new comer.


"We can talk quite well enough where we are," answered the lawyer: "indeed, I don't know that I have any leisure to talk at all, for just now I am very much pressed with business."

"But I must speak to you," rejoined Philip sternly, "at least I must say one thing, and that is, Mr. Corvet, that you are a villain!"

"Insolent!" exclaimed the lawyer, rising behind the table and pointing to the door; "Do you see that, sir? Let one minute longer find you the other side of it, or your feet may reach the landing by a quicker method than usual. Begone, sir!"

Such a threat was the more harsh to Philip, for he had rather high-strung feelings of honor. He grew almost livid with suppressed agony.

"I will see you again very soon," said he, in a low but distinct manner, his lips trembling as he spoke; and he turned at once and left the office.

The incidents of the rest of that pleasant summer day left little impression on the young man's mind. He roamed to and fro without any object or destination. Along South-street, and by Whitehall, he watched with curious eyes the movements of the shipping, and the loading and unloading of cargoes; and listened to the merry heave-yo of the sailors and stevedores.6 There are some minds upon which great excitement produces the singular effect of uniting two utterly inconsistent faculties—a sort of cold apathy, and a sharp sensitiveness to all that is going on at the same time. Philip's was one of this sort; he noticed the various differences in the apparel of a gang of wharf-laborers; turned over in his brain whether they received wages enough to keep them comfortable, and their families also—and if they had families or not, which he tried to tell by their looks. In such petty reflections the daylight passed away. And all the while the master wish of Philip's thoughts was a desire to see the lawyer Covert. For what purpose he himself was by no means clear.


Nightfall came at last. Still, however, the young man did not direct his steps homeward. He felt more calm, however, and entering an eating-house ordered something for his supper, which, when it was brought to him, he merely tasted and strolled forth again. There was a kind of gnawing sensation of thirst within him yet, and as he passed a hotel, he bethought him that one little glass of spirits would, perhaps, be just the thing. He drank, and hour after hour wore away unconsciously; he drank not one glass, but three or four, and strong glasses they were to him, for he was habitually abstemious.

It had been a hot day and evening, and when Philip, at an advanced period of the night emerged from the bar-room into the street, he found that a thunderstorm had just commenced. He resolutely walked on, however, although at every step it grew more and more blustering.

The rain now poured down a cataract; the shops were all shut; few of the street lamps were lighted; and there was little except the frequent flashes of lightning to show him his way. When along about half the length of Chatham-street, which lay in the direction he had to take, the momentary fury of the tempest, forced him to turn aside into a sort of shelter formed by the corners of the deep entrance to a Jew pawnbroker's shop there. He had hardly drawn himself in as closely as possible when the lightning revealed to him that the opposite corner of the nook was tenanted also.

"A sharp rain this," said the other occupant, who simultaneously beheld Philip.

The voice sounded to the young man's ears a note which almost made him sober again. It was certainly the voice of Adam Covert. He made some commonplace reply, and waited for a flash of lightning to show him the stranger's face. It came, and he saw that his companion was, indeed, his guardian.

Philip Marsh had drank deeply—(let us plead all that may be possible to you, stern moralist). Upon his mind came swarming, and he could not drive them away, thoughts of all those insults his sister had told him of, and the bitter words Covert had spoken to her; he reflected, too, on the injuries Esther as well as  per_kc.00019_large.jpg himself had received, and were still likely to receive, at the hands of that bold, bad man—how mean, selfish, and unprincipled was his character—what base and cruel advantages he had taken of many poor people, entangled in his power, and of how much wrong and suffering he had been the author, and might be again through future years. The very turmoil of the elements, the harsh roll of the thunder, the vindictive beating of the rain, and the fierce glare of the wild fluid that seemed to riot in the ferocity of the storm around him, kindled a strange sympathetic fury in the young man's mind. Heaven itself (so deranged were his imaginings) appeared to have provided a fitting scene and time for a deed of retribution, which to his disordered passion half wore the semblance of a divine justice. He remembered not the ready solution to be found in Covert's pressure of business which had no doubt kept him later than usual; but fancied some mysterious intent in the ordaining that he should be there, and that they two should meet at that untimely hour. All this whirl of influence came over Philip with startling quickness at that horrid moment. He stepped to the side of his guardian.

"Ho!" said he, "have we met so soon, Mr. Covert? You traitor to my dead father—robber of his children!—scoundrel!—wretch!7 I fear to think on what I think now!"

The lawyer's natural effrontery did not desert him.

"Unless you'd like to spend a night in the watch-house, young gentleman," said he, after a short pause, "move on. Your father was a weak man, I remember; as for his son, his own wicked heart is his worst foe.8 I have never done wrong to either—that I can say, and swear it!"

"Insolent liar!" exclaimed Philip, his eyes flashing out sparks of fire in the darkness.

Covert made no reply except a cool, contemptuous laugh.

This stung the excited young man to double fury. He sprang upon the lawyer, and clutched him by the neckcloth.

"Take it then!" he cried hoarsely, for his throat was impeded by the fiendish rage which in that black hour possessed the wretched young man. "You are not fit to live!"

He dragged his guardian to the earth, and fell crushingly upon him, choking the shriek the poor victim but just began to utter. Then, with monstrous imprecations, he twisted a tight knot around the gasping creature's neck, drew a clasp-knife from his pocket, and touching the spring, the long sharp blade, too eager for its bloody work, flew open.

During the lull of the storm, the last strength of the prostrate man burst forth into one short loud cry of agony. At the same instant the arm of the murderer thrust the blade once, twice, thrice deep in his enemy's bosom! Not a minute had passed since that fatal, exasperating laugh.—but the deed was done, and the instinctive thought which came at once to the guilty one, was a thought of fear and escape.

In the unearthly pause which followed, Philip's eyes gave one long searching sweep in every direction, above and around him. Above! God of the all-seeing eye! What, and who was that white figure there?

"Forbear! In Jehovah's name forbear!" cried a shrill but clear and melodious voice.

It was as if some accusing spirit had come down to bear witness against the deed of blood. Leaning far out of an upper window, appeared a white-draperied shape, its face possessed of a wonderful youthful beauty. Long vivid glows of lightning gave Philip a full opportunity to see as clearly as though the sun had been shining at noon-day. One hand of the figure was raised upward in a deprecating attitude, and his large bright black eyes bent down upon the scene below with an expression of horror and shrinking pain. Such heavenly looks, and the peculiar circumstances of the time, filled Philip's heart with awe.

"O, if it is not yet too late," spoke the youth again, "spare him! In God's voice I command, 'Thou shalt do no murder!'"

The words rang like a knell in the ear of the terror-stricken and already remorseful Philip. Springing from the body, he gave a second glance up and down the walk, which was totally lonesome and deserted; then crossing into Reade street, he made his fearful way in a state half of stupor, half bewilderment, by the nearest avenues to his home.



When the corpse of the murdered lawyer was found in the morning, and the officers of justice commenced their inquiry, suspicion immediately fell upon Philip, and he was arrested. The most rigorous search, however, brought to light nothing at all implicating the young man, except his visit to Covert's office the evening before, and his angry language there. That was by no means enough to fix so heavy a charge upon him.

The second day afterward, the whole business came before the ordinary judicial tribunal, in order that Philip might be either committed for the crime or discharged. The testimony of Mr. Covert's clerk stood alone. One of his employers, who, believing in his innocence, had deserted him not in this crisis, had provided him with the ablest criminal counsel in New York. The proof was declared entirely insufficient, and Philip was discharged.

The crowded court-room made way for him as he came out; hundreds of curious looks fixed upon his features, and many a jibe passed upon him. But of all that arena of human faces, he saw only one—a sad, pale, black-eyed one, cowering in the centre of the rest. He had seen that face twice before—the first time as a warning spectre—the second time in prison, immediately after his arrest—now for the last time! This young stranger—this son of a scorned and persecuted race10 —coming to the court-room to perform an unhappy duty, with the intention of testifying to what he had seen, melted at the sight of Philip's bloodless cheek, and of his sister's convulsive throbs, and forbore witnessing against the murderer. Shall we applaud or condemn him? Let every reader answer the question for himself.

That afternoon Philip left New York. His friendly employer owned a small farm some miles up the Hudson, and until the excitement of the affair was over, he advised the young man to go thither. Philip thankfully accepted the proposal, made a few preparations, took a hurried leave of Esther, with a sad foreboding, which indeed proved true, that he should see her no more on earth, and by nightfall was settled in his new abode.11

And how, think you, rested Philip Marsh that night? Rested indeed! O, if those who clamor so much for the halter and the scaffold to punish crime, could have seen that sight, they might have learned a lesson then! Four days had elapsed since he that lay tossing upon the bed there, had slumbered. Not the slightest intermission had come to his awakened and tensely strung sense, during those frightful days. And now, O, pitying Heaven, if he could only lose his remorse in one little hour of wholesome respose!12

Disturbed waking dreams came to him, as he thought what he might do to gain his lost peace. Far, far away would he go! The cold roll of the murdered man's eye, as it turned up its last glance into his face—the shrill exclamation of pain—all the unearthly vividness of the posture, motions, and looks of the dead—the warning voice from above—pursued him like tormenting furies, and were never absent from his mind, asleep or awake, that long weary night! Anything, any place, to escape such horrid companionship! He would travel inland—hire himself to do hard drudgery upon some farm—work incessantly through the wide summer days, and thus force nature to bestow oblivion upon his senses, at least a little while now and then. He would fly on, on, on, until, amid different scenes and a new life, the old memories were rubbed entirely out. He would fight bravely in himself for peace of mind. For peace he would labor and struggle—for peace he would pray!

At length, after a feverish slumber of some thirty or forty minutes, the unhappy youth, waking with a nervous start, raised himself in bed, and saw the blessed day-light beginning to dawn. He felt the sweat trickling down his naked breast; the sheet where he had lain was quite wet with it. Dragging himself wearily, he opened the window.

Ah! that good morning air—how it refreshed him—how he leaned out, and drank in the fragrance of the blossoms below, and almost for the first time in his life felt how beautifully indeed God had made the earth, and that there was wonderful sweetness in mere existence! And amidst the thousand mute mouths  per_kc.00021_large.jpg and eloquent eyes, which appeared as it were to look up and speak in every direction, he almost fancied so many invitations to come forth, and be among them. Not without effort, for he was very weak, he dressed himself, and issued forth into the open air.

Clouds of pale gold and transparent crimson draperied the eastern sky, but the sun, whose face gladdened them into all that glory, was not yet above the horizon. It was a time and place of such rare, such Eden-like beauty! Philip paused at the summit of an upward slope, and gazed around him. Some few miles off, he could see a gleam of the Hudson river—and above it, a spur of those rugged cliffs that are scattered along its western shores. Nearer by were cultivated fields. The clover grew richly there, the young grain bent to the early breeze, and the air was filled with an intoxicating perfume from the neighboring apple-orchards, snowy in their luxuriant bloom.13 At his side was the large well-kept garden of his host, in which were many pretty flowers, grass-plots, and a wide avenue of noble trees. As Philip gazed, the holy calming power of Nature—the invisible spirit of so much beauty, and so much innocence, melted into his soul. The disturbed passions and the feverish conflict subsided. He even felt something like that envied peace of mind—a sort of joy even in the presence of all the unmarred goodness. It was as fair to him, guilty though he had been, as to the purest of the pure. No accusing frowns saw he in the face of the flowers, or in the green shrubs, and the branches of the trees. They, more forgiving than mankind, and distinguishing not between the children of darkness and the children of light—they at least treated him with gentleness. Was he, then, a being so accursed? Involuntarily, he bent over a branch of red roses, and took them softly between his hands, those murderous bloody hands! But the red roses neither withered nor smelled less fragrant. And as the young man kissed them, and dropped a tear upon them, it seemed to him that he had found pity and sympathy from heaven itself.14


After desolating the cities of the eastern world, the dreaded Cholera made its appearance on our American shores.16 In New York, hardly had the first few cases occurred, when thousands of the inhabitants precipitately left town, and sought safety in the neighboring country districts. For various reasons, however, large numbers still remained. While fear drove away so many—poverty, quite as stern a force, also compelled many to stay where they were. The desire of gain, too, made a large number continue their business as usual, for composition was narrowed down, and profits were large. Besides these, there was, of the number who remained, still another class, every name among whom is brightly kept in the records writ by God's angels. These were the men and women, heedless of their own small comfort, who went out amid the diseased, the destitute, and the dying, like merciful spirits—wiping the drops from hot brows, and soothing the agony of cramped limbs—speaking words of consolation to many a despairing creature, who would else have been vanquished by his soul's weakness alone—and treading softly but quickly from bedside to bedside, with those little offices which are so grateful to the sick, but which can so seldom be obtained from strangers. O, Charity and Love! sister throbbings in the heart of great Humanity! Sweetly, but ever surely, step you forth from the very tempest of those horrors, which whirl away by wholesale man's virtue and his life! Even in carnage and pestilence, sad fruits of the evil that will work from ourselves—when hate, selfishness, and all monstrous vice threaten to beat the good utterly out of mortal hearts—the Genius of Perfection which our Maker gave us, springs up loftily and cheerfully from the ruin, and laughs to scorn the taunts of those malignant fiends, who please themselves in the depression of our better nature! Yes: then, to cancel the weight of wickedness, appear large deeds of devotion and love;—then come forth heroes of charity and brotherly kindness, whose meek courage is greater than the courage of war;—then favorite messengers of heaven enter into the hearts of noble women, who go forth and relieve the  per_kc.00022_large.jpg scene of its sombre gloom, like lamps at night. And though the number be few, their sum of holiness affords a leaven large enough for the freshness and healthiness of an otherwise unwholesome world! Ye true sons and daughters of Christ! I bow before you with a reverence I never pay either to earthly rank or intellectual majesty!

Such, during the cholera season in New York, was the character of a small and sacred band who, with no union except the union of that sublimest of impulses, good will to man, went wherever they could find themselves needed or useful. One among them seemed even more ardent and devoted than the rest. Wherever the worst cases of the contagion were to be found, he also was to be found. In noisome alleys and foul rear-buildings, in damp cellars and hot garrets, thither came he with food, medicine, gentle words, and gentle smiles. By the head of the dying, the sight of his pale calm face and his eyes moist with tears of sympathy, often divested death of its severest terrors. At midnight hovered he over the forms of sick children, hushing their fretful cries, solacing them to rest with a soft voice, and cooling their hot cheeks with his own hands and lips, disdainful of the peril he inhaled at every breath. At night, too, when not occupied with other cares, he went prying and peering about, threading that dirtiest and wretchedest section of the city, between Chatham and Centre streets, pausing frequently, and gazing hither and thither. And when his well trained ear caught those familiar sounds, those wailings of anguish and fear, how unerringly would he direct his feet to the spot whence they proceeded. There, like an unearthly help, vouchsafed from above, he would at once take the measures experience had proved most efficacious, not seldom finding his reward the next day in the recovered safety of his patient.

This messenger of health to many, and peace to all, this unwearied, unterrified angel of mercy and charity, was Philip Marsh. His heart swelled with an engrossing wish to cancel, as far as he could, the great outrage he had committed on society by taking the life of one of its members. A great crime sometimes revolutionizes a character. For that purpose he would cheerfully have endured any pains or privations, however severe; and he rejoiced in all the additional risk he ran, for the preservation or recovery of those unhappy sufferers. It even seemed as if he were thus making interest in the Courts of Heaven. How many new comers to the immortal land must have passed its golden arches, with the thought of his devoted sympathy fresh within them. Who should say he was not already interceded for at the throne of God?

Late one evening Philip was walking slowly home, faint with the labors of the day, to gain that repose which would fit him for further efforts. His course led him through one of those thoroughfares that intersect the eastern part of Grand street; and in the solemn stillness of the time, his attention was arrested by the low sobbing of a child whose face could be indistinctly seen at an open basement window. Philip stepped closer, paused, and leaning down, saw that it was a young boy.

"Why are you crying, my little son?" said he.

The child ceased his sobs and looked up, but made no answer.

"Are you alone here?" continued Philip. "Is your father or mother sick?"

"My brother is sick," answered the child. "I have no father. He is dead."

"Did he die of the cholera, then?"

"No," replied the boy, "a bad man killed him a year ago."

Philip's heart quivered as if some harsh instrument had cut into it. A dim foreboding, not without joy, too, came dreamily to him.

"What is your name, my poor boy?" he asked.

"Adam Covert," said the child.

And at the same moment Philip was down the area steps, and had entered the door.

By the death of Covert, his two children were left without any protector, and almost without a shelter. The lawyer's business was conducted on a plan so entirely without method—the knowledge of its details being confined to himself almost exclusively—that it would have been difficult for any one to realize the smallest sum over the demands against him. In this state of things several rapacious creditors came in, and took possession of all that remained.

The elder of the two young Coverts was a lad of about eighteen, an industrious  per_kc.00023_large.jpg and intelligent youngster, whose earnings now sufficed for the support of himself and his little brother. They rubbed along tolerably well, until the coming of the cholera, which broke up the boarding-house where they had made their home, dispersed the boarders, and drove off the frightened landlady and her family among some distant country relations.17 The orphans, too poor to go with the rest, obtained permission to occupy the basement of the house, and the elder continued his avocations for a while longer, when unfortunately his business stopped, and of course his wages with it.

The afternoon previous to Philip's accidental encounter with the child at the window, poor living and a disturbed mind had done their work on the unemployed lad, and he began to feel the symptoms of the prevailing illness. There was no aid, no friend, no doctor near. He went forth into the street, but feared that he might perhaps die there upon the public walk, and returned to his dwelling again, comforting his brother as well as he could.

And now, Philip, thanking the indulgence of God, which had vouchsafed him this happiness, was the nurse, the friend, and the physician of the sick youth. Hardly for a moment stirred he from the room. He always carried about him the medicines necessary in such cases, and here all his experience and skill were taxed to their utmost.

Heaven blessed those exertions, and the boy recovered his health again.

But this was Philip's crowning act of recompense. From the very hour when his young patient was beyond danger, the over-wearied man began to droop. His illness however was not long. He wrote a short note to his sister, who was many miles away at the house of a distant relative—bequeathed his property to the boys whom he had made fatherless—(after the death of Covert, the orphans of course received their inheritance at once)—and a few hours afterward, calmly passed Philip Marsh from the circuit of that life, which, young as he was, had been to him little else than a scene of crime, suffering and repentance.

Some of my readers may, perhaps, think that he ought to have been hung at the time of his crime. I must be pardoned if I think differently.


1. This tale is the eighth of nine short stories by Whitman that were published for the first time in The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, often referred to simply as The Democratic Review. When he republished this story in installments in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on September 7–9, 1846, while he was editor of that paper, Whitman retitled it "One Wicked Impulse! (A tale of a Murderer escaped.)" He kept that title but dropped the subtitle when he published the story again in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882), 344–349. "Pieces in Early Youth" was also reprinted in Whitman's Complete Prose Works (1892): see "One Wicked Impulse!" For a complete list of revisions to the language of the story made or authorized by Whitman for publication in Specimen Days & Collect, see Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 309–318. For the publication history of the story under its earliest known title and under its later title, see "About 'Revenge and Requital; A Tale of a Murderer Escaped'" and "About 'One Wicked Impulse! A Tale of a Murderer Escaped.'" [back]

2. Whitman did not include the number before the first section of this story when he published it in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He eliminated the numbered divisions completely in Collect. [back]

3. A stock-jobber is engaged in the business of buying and selling stocks. The term was often used to mean dishonest buying and trading, which is how Whitman uses it here. Nassau Street is located in the financial district in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. [back]

4. Whitman jotted down notes about a character named Covert in an early notebook (see "a schoolmaster"). The ideas in that notebook about the plot of a story that would involve Covert bear some resemblance to the plot of "Revenge and Requital." For a more detailed assessment of the similarities and differences between Whitman's notebook and the plot of "Revenge and Requital," see "About 'Revenge and Requital; A Tale of a Murderer Escaped.'" [back]

5. Esther and Philip are considered Covert's wards because he is their legal guardian and has control over their inheritance. [back]

6. A stevedore loads and/or unloads the cargo on merchant ships. [back]

7. Whitman cut "—scoundrel!—wretch!" in both the Eagle and Collect. [back]

8. A watch-house is a place where disorderly persons taken into custody during the night can be detained until the following morning. [back]

9. In the Eagle, the next section, which forms the second installment of the story, is preceded by two poems. The first, titled "The White Dove.—(A Hymn for Children)," is attributed to Fredrika Bremer. The second, "The Quadroon Girl," is attributed to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. [back]

10. The words "and persecuted" were cut in Collect. [back]

11. In Collect, this sentence reads: "Philip thankfully accepted the proposal, made a few preparations, took a hurried leave of Esther, and by nightfall was settled in his new abode." [back]

12. This sentence forms a new paragraph in the Eagle; it has been cut entirely in Collect. [back]

13. In Collect, the portion of this sentence beginning "from the neighboring apple-orchards" has been cut. [back]

14. Whitman ends the story here in Collect, with the addition of the following paragraph: "Though against all the rules of story-writing, we continue our narrative of these mainly true incidents (for such they are,) no further. Only to say that the murderer soon departed for a new field of action—that he is still living—and that this is but one of thousands of cases of unravel'd, unpunish'd crime—left, not to the tribunals of man, but to a wider power and judgment." [back]

15. In the Eagle, the next section, which forms the final installment of the story, is preceded by a poem titled "The Grave," a translation from the Anglo-Saxon attributed to Longfellow. [back]

16. Cholera, an instestinal infection, is often caused by drinking contaminated water and is common where there is poor sanitation. Cholera outbreaks occurred in the United States in the 1800s before modern water and sewage treatments prevented the spread of the disease. Here, Whitman may be referring to the cholera outbreak in 1832 that prompted many to leave New York City and killed more than three thousand. See John Duff, History of Public Health in New York City, 1625–1866, Volume 1 (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1968), 441–442. [back]

17. A boarding house is a place where a lodger can rent a room and/or obtain meals for a few days or during an extended period of time. Boarding houses flourished in New York City in the mid-nineteenth century. In an article titled "New York Boarding Houses," published in the New York Aurora on March 18, 1842, Whitman estimated that "half the inhabitants of the city hire accommodations at these houses," and noted that "if we were called upon to describe the universal Yankee nation in laconic terms, we should say, they are 'a boarding people.'" Whitman himself stayed at a number of different boarding houses during the early 1840s: see David Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Random House, 1996), 84. [back]

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