Skip to main content

Matters Which Were Seen and Done in an Afternoon Ramble

image 1image 2image 3image 4cropped image 1


The luscious air, (mellow as a full–ripe peach) and the cloudless skies, forbade any return that day (17th) to indoor avocations.—Merely to live, (out of doors) amid such fresh and welcome beauty, was enough;—but to 'go to work' immediately after tasting it, was too much! . . . . . . . Who says Brooklyn is not a growing glace? He surely cannot have walked lately, as we then walked, through East Brooklyn and South Brooklyn. At this present writing, we think we could go and count full three hundred houses in process of erection in those two parts of our city! In Atlantic street there are several rows of noble buildings, and in quite every cross street can be heard the sound of carpenters' hammers and masons' trowels. . . . . . . And by the bye speaking of East Brooklyn, we wonder that some public spirited personage or personages do not set on foot measures for the construction of Churches thereabout, or even in the wide scope between it and Fulton street—for they are much needed there. There is, it is true, the New Methodist now being built in Bridge street, and a small but neat wooden Church (on speculation) in Prince street; but the exuberant population there requires many and large houses of worship. No person who walks often through that part of our city, and beholds the immense proportion of young people resident in it, but will surely agree with us. West of Fulton street is well supplied with the most magnificent Churches, and this makes the paucity on the other side more apparent.

Crossing to N. Y. at the South Ferry, (what mortal could wish a better–managed mode of passage than appertains to our Brooklyn ferries?) We lingered awhile on the Battery—that beloved spot—and reflected whether the new Washington Park, on the heights of Fort Greene, would not be quite as noble a promenade, even without the water–front: it would have a far more magnificent water–view, you know. . . . . . . Stores, and very handsome ones, we observed, are encroaching on the south side of Broadway, from the Bowling Green up to the site of the old Waverly House—the stretch made vacant by the fire of last summer. The last gaps in the line are now being filled up, and the New Year's callers on that route will behold not a single evidence of the ruin made by the 'devouring element' so short a while since. . . . . . What a fascinating chaos is Broadway, of a pleasant sunny time! Weknow1 it is all, (or most of it,) 'fol–de–rol,' but still there is a pleasure in walking up and down there awhile, and looking at the beautiful ladies, the bustle, the show, the glitter, and even the gaudiness. But alas! what a prodigious amount of means and time might be much better and more profitably employed than as they are there!

After giving a passing glance in the rooms of the Art Union,2 (a perpetual free exhibition of Paintings, Broadway, near Pearl st., which we advise our Brooklyn folk to visit often: it will cost them nothing, and there are always good things there,) we ascended the wide winding stair–case of the Society Library,3 to the room where Brown's Statuary is exhibiting.4 Mr. B. is a young American, and deserves well; for he shows genius and industry. We particularly liked two marble Bas Reliefs—one of the Pleiades, and another of the Hyades.5 (These latter 'weeping sisters,' by the by, seem lately to have been in the ascendant.). An Adonis,6 quite the size of life, would perhaps be considered the most attractive 'feature' of the exhibition. Though a noble statue, it did not, however, come up to our (perhaps too lifted) ideas of 'Myrrha's immortal son.' 7 . . . . . . . Just crossing Broadway, (to 341) our taste for the Ideal—for the exquisite in form, the gracefully quaint, and the chastely gorgeous—experienced a sort of 'new developement' in looking over Banks's new stock and saloon; for surely no mortal man, (except the proprietor himself, who seems to devote his life enthusiastically to it,) could ferret out, or 'get up' so many superb things, in a super–superb style! Vases that would add wonder to the palaces of Persian Shas—glitteringly grotesque mantel–ornaments—tiara brilliants, that princesses might wear—bracelets, rings, and a maze of etc.! such are but a portion of the star–like things that are collected here! True Democrat as we are, we did like to look on shapes and things of beauty, ever.

—The deafening flourish of trumpets and roll of drums ushered up the curtain of the Park theatre, just as we entered and took a seat amid a well–filled house, to see a counterfeit presentment of "The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England," (which is probably more Marlowe's play than Shakspere's after all.). And there sat the monarch so 'infirm of purpose,' on his throne—surrounded by bold barons, and all the things of the Feudal age! Whatever may be said of Mr. Kean's acting, the public owe him something for the perfection of costume, scenery, properties, &c. in the plays produced under his control. It is not to be denied that a New York audience never before had anything in the neighborhood of the truthfulness and appropriateness which mark the present representation of King John. That shows something like a court, and the movements of royalty, and of armies. There are scores of knights and men–at–arms, that bring to one's mind the stamps on old English coins, the pictures and effigies in old Abbeys, and such like. And instead of the ludicrous stiffness that usually prevails on the stage, in such scenes, there are colloquial groupings, and all the adjuncts, as near as possible, of reality. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . But what shall we say of Mrs. Kean's Queen Constance? a piece of artistic work which we shall not soon forget. We are not given to superlatives in these things—but if there be any perfection in acting, Mrs. K. evinces it in her pourtrayal of that widowed and crownless Queen! From first to last it was a continuous stretch of unsurpassed by–play and fine elocution. The harrowing close of the third act was marked by the tears of half the audience, men as well as women. The character of Constance is such as Mrs. Kean can (and almost she only) truly represent—and the following bit of delivery, as she gave it, was perhaps never better done, on the stage. It is the rejoinder she gives to the remonstrances of Cardinal Pandulph and King Philip, against her overwhelming grief for the loss of her little son, Prince Arthur, who was taken prisoner by his usurping uncle:

"Grief fills the room up of my absent child, Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me; Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words, Remembers me of all his gracious parts. Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form; Then have I reason to be fond of grief. Fare you well : had you such a loss as I, I could give better comfort than you do.— I will not keep this form upon my head, When there is such disorder in my wit. Oh, lord! My boy, my Arthur, my fair son! My life, my joy, my food, my all in the world, My widow–comfort, and my sorrow's cure!"

We must confess, though we are no admirer of Mr. Kean, that he, in King John, left very little to be asked for more, by the reasonable spectator. His elocution was good, and his air and bearing such as became royalty. The two last acts, which depend quite altogether upon him, were deeply interesting; and we think the common cant hitherto about the play, that it 'lacks dramatic effect,' must pretty effectually get its quietus, now. The play really is full of dramatic interest—and not the least of it flows from its historical associations. Only the morbid appetite for unnatural strained effect can complain of want of interest in such a play as King John. . . . . . Mr. Vandenhoof's Faulconbridge was acting of the liveliest, heartiest, most refreshing sort, and gave a light grace to the massiveness of the rest The young creature who played Arthur took the sympathies of the whole house; she played with quiet, grace, and modesty.


1. "We know" is misspelled in the original issue. [back]

2. The American Art–Union, which began life in 1838 as the Apollo Gallery, soon became the most important sponsor of work by American artists in the country. Until its demise in 1852, the American Art–Union sponsored free exhibitions of the work of American artists, encouraged large–scale patronage, and for an annual membership fee of five dollars distributed an engraving after an original work of art together with two art publications to each member. Members were also eligible for a drawing of original works of art by living American artists. By 1849 membership reached nearly 19,000, with members dispersed through almost every state. The Brooklyn Art Union, which Whitman championed and for which he delivered the keynote address at the first distribution of prizes in 1850, was one of five other art unions that grew out of the American Art–Union. On the history of the American Art–Union, see Mary Bartlett Cowdrey, American Academy of Fine Arts and American Art–Union (New York: The New York Historical Society, 1953), 95–240; on Whitman's involvement in the Brooklyn Art Union, see Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman, 19–29. [back]

3. The National Academy of Design, modeled after the Royal Academy of Arts in London, was founded by artists in New York in 1825. The organization's annual juried exhibitions showcased the work of a large number of contemporary American artists. Held in the imposing quarters of the New York Society Library building at the corner of Broadway and Leonard Street from 1838 to 1850, they were widely reviewed and attracted large crowds. See David B. Dearinger, "Annual Exhibitions and the Birth of American Art Criticism to 1865," in David B. Dearinger, ed., Rave Reviews: American Art and Its Critics, 1826–1925 (New York: National Academy of Design, 2000), 53–91. [back]

4. American sculptor Henry Kirke Brown (1814–1886) had recently returned from four years of study in Italy, encouraged by his friend, the poet William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878). Brown's exhibition at the National Academy of Design was his first major exhibition and the first solo exhibition of a sculptor in the city of New York. The classical themes expressed in Brown's Italian work would shift to more explicitly American themes once back on American soil. When Brown set up a studio in Brooklyn, Whitman became a frequent visitor. There Whitman participated in an active community of painters, sculptors, writers and art patrons whose discussions on art, and particularly what constituted a distinctly American art, greatly benefitted his thinking. See Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman, 20–23. [back]

5. A bas relief is a carving in which the figures project only slightly higher than the background. In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of Atlas who were pursued by Orion until Zeus placed them in the heavens as stars. The Hyades, six in number, were the daughters of Atlas and the half sisters of the Pleiades. They, too, were stars, associated with the rainy season. See Edith Hamilton, Mythology (New York: New American Library, 1942), 293, 297. [back]

6. In Greek mythology Adonis was the god of beauty and desire. [back]

7. In Greek mythology, Myrrha was a mortal woman transformed into a myrrh tree after seducing her father, King Cinyras of Cyprus, and becoming pregnant. Her son was the god Adonis. [back]

Back to top