In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: Wants

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: Between 1841 and 1862

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00150

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of the original. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of manuscripts, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: This manuscript appears to be a draft piece of journalism, although it is not known if it was ever published. While Whitman wrote journalistic pieces throughout his life, the handwriting, ink, and paper are most consistent with manuscripts known to have been written before the first appearance of Leaves of Grass in 1855. Edward Grier details some of the reasons for believing the manuscript to date to between 1841 and 1862 in Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts (New York: New York University Press, 1984), 1:88.

Contributors to digital file: Janel Cayer, Jeannette Schollaert, Kevin McMullen, Nicole Gray, Brett Barney, and Kenneth M. Price

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Our daily papers, in New York, show that the "wants" of the human race, ^hereabout, are by no means those "few" which philosophers are ^have long been in the habit of recommending.—Every morning, there they appear—long stretched columns of them—of one general character, and stereotyped phrase—but still with a certain variety that marks the difference of nation, taste, or circumstance.—

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Life, to both poor and rich, in great cities, is an excitement and a struggle!—Those of our readers, in the country, who jog along in their ^their solid, easy way, and are not in danger of serious falling on dangerous slippery places, know very little of the shifts and ^frequent desperations of of the life existence of the poor in great cities—which go far to counterbalance the supreme advantages that, (writersreasoners may say what they like,) make the city so attractive and fascinating.

These "wants" in the newspapers are illustrative of the precarious nature of employment and existence here.—The vast majority of the merchants and ^prosperous mechanics do not appear in their columns—indeed rarely in their rarely in their

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lives ever enter one.—Happily, as to the latter class, in this country, work is not yet so hard to get, or employers at present so lordly, as to make it necessary for the carpenter or mason to run around and look to all intermediate agencies for a situation.—As to ^And among the commercial part of the community, there is a prejudice against filling even a subordinate clerkship through the means of the ^"want" column, or Intelligence office.—

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The vast majority of those who have to do with Intelligence offices, ^the "Wants" department, are, ^domestic servants who want need places, and mistresses who want need "help."—Most of the females of the former class, are Irish women, and girls.—Generally, ^when they come to the office with their little advertisements at the Intelligence offices, they appear decently dressed, some indeed with quite costly attire—a large proportion having been to service, and either ^many of them left of their own accord.—, or been discharged.—They are stout, square shouldered women, with the well-known Milesian features.—Not a few of them are really good looking; although, as a general thinkg, the best part of their countenances is its an expression of patience, ^honesty, and good nature.

At the office of the Commissioners of Emigration, Irish Emigrant Society, (we believe it is,) on the west side of Spruce street, may be seen a somewhat different class, ^too short of cash to pay even for a "want" advertisement; seeking also domestic employment.—They are females "just from Ireland."—Hot as the day may be, any ^time

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from June to August, many of them will be sweltering in thick woolen cloaks or shawls; and the ^whole crowd will be standing shoulder to shoulder, with red faces, and much panting.—In dress, the substantial is altogether ahead of the graceful, or the seasonable.—Their feet have thick, well nailed, shoes, evidently made to last—the very extreme, against the smart patent leather, delicate soled article, which even our hardy young ^city workingmen now usually wear in summer.—The bonnets of the women are stout Leghorn, well used by their thrifty mothers or grand-mothers, in some cases—and therefore, as may be supposed, without much pretension to style.—

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Although, in looking over the miscellaneous collection at the office of the Commissioners Irish Emigrant Society, a stupid and stultified looking face, may now and then be seen, yet the general run is that of persons of fair natural capacity, although brought up under circumstances that render the traits and usages of intelligent life in the city, ^at first altogether strange to them.—

At any rate, we never look upon one of these collections of poor creatures, without feelings of sympathy and a ^devout hope that they may have good luck.—Born in a land, which furnishes to modern times the most appaling instance of how partial and bad government must

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at last result in wide-spread individual ruin,—largeportions of the men and women around them ^of that land literally starving to death every year—the immense product of their naturally fertile island, monopolized in the hands of a few, and mostly sent to foreign markets, while they emaciate and die—wages at the lowest figure, and employment hard to be had at that—all the honorable places and civil and religious berths occupied by their conquerers and oppressors tyrants—the numerous passionate struggles they have made for relief, at last tacitly given up in despair—with a sort of horrid contentment under the despotism,
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insult, poverty and starvation that seem to be their destined fate for ever—what how can one help feeling kindly toward ^a deep sympathy for these poor Irish men and women, ignorant and awkward as they are?—

But at the usual Intelligence Offices, there is, as we have intimated, ^ the "Want" columns of the morning papers represent, what may be called a somewhat higher range of people,. ^ than those at the Emigration office wanting employment.— run on There is one office in Nassau street, toward John, which we pass often.— Then Reader, did you ever notice, the Intelligence Offices, scattered about the city?—Those illustrate the "wants" advertised in the papers.—Sometimes, the low basement rooms will be crowded with Irish girls, seated around on long benches, and holding their linen handkerchiefs and fans in their hands.—Some of them are dressed in real fashion, and, when they go out, will draw on their kid gloves and hoist their

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parasols.—Yes, a close jam of stalwart female humanity, our eyes often catch in those basements, as we pass.—Why are they ^There they are, perpetually standing or seated in that way, ? Are they waiting for some master or mistress to come along and give them a "call".?—Probably, however, they ^also, many of them dress up and go to the Intelligence Office, much partly from the same motives as motives like those of those of the fashionable lady who dawdles a morning through the shops and pavement of Broadway.—To the Irish girl, out of a situation, the Intelligence Office is a place of public seeing and being seen.—She makes acquaintance with many Bridgets and Bettys; and notes are compared, and much interesting ^kitchen news passed from hand mouth to ear.—

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It is said that some of the New York Intelligence Offices are made subsidiary to the basest purposes of men of licentious passions.—To the credit of humanity, we hope that, if this be a fact at all, it is the very rare exception—and are inclined to think ^believe that it is only so.—

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You will see notice, at these offices, hardly any Americans,; probably none.—At the places we have noticed beheld in our daily walks, we ha do not yet remember seeing an a single American, of either sex.—^The same fact applied generally to the "want" columns.—Indeed, there is something utterly repugnant, in the American character, to being ^the station of a servant.—The nearest we ever came to ^being in danger from a fight, was, one unfortunate

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day when we accompanied a ^newly arrived Swiss gentleman, who had resided some time in England, to dine at one of the ^New York Fulton street eating houses.—A good looking, democratic, young fellow, American, with in his shirt sleeves, was rather peremptorily accosted by our Swiss friend, as "Waiter."—The young chap's face turned as red as fire, and he was ready for a scrimmage in a moment.—

Around the doors of the larger intelligence offices, ^ —which are a sort of tangible "want" advertisement— stand and lounge the lads and men who want wish work.—They are Irish and English, mostly.—Every ^well dressed passer, one who comes along, is examined by their

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eyes, with an anxious, appealing sort of look.—The English have ruddy healthy faces, and their square shoulders and large arms look the right sort for labor.—We should think these chaps invaluable upon well conducted farms. They are evidently intelligent, and of a sort who would take pride in doing their work well.—

The Irish boys are ready for anything—but mostly prefer, what indeed they are at first most best fitted for, to wield the pickaxe or the spade.—They will generally give make a florid description of their capacities, by no means doing injustice to themselves, and winding up with a strong appeal to your personal benevolence, and the special virtue of giving them the preference.—

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The Englishman, on the contrary, is a man of few words, and rarely claims more than he deserves.—Nor does he press himself upon you.—

Now and then, should you be looking after at the scenes in one of these offices, you will see a mistress come after a servant.—Perhaps she is the keeper of a boarding house—a place, ^by the by where the servants ^are apt to get plenty of hard work and rough usage.—Her col[d?] eye ranges over the whole crow[d?] [cut away] at once rejects all the good-l[ooking?]

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girls.—There is always tro[uble?] [cut away] boarding house where there [cut away]ppen[cut away] be a plump, handsome Biddy.—It is very strange.—

The good lady inquires and examines, and ponders and looks sharp.—She thinks well of this one's broad shoulders, but fears that she may be a trifle too fond of whiskey: isn't that the inference from her face?—In the mean time, the poor girls are quite in a state of excitement and emulation;—and until the successful competitor marches off ^with her new mistress as proud as a peacock.—

All these girls, likely, have some friend—some cousin, ^aunt, or one "whose mother lived near, in the ould country"—in whose domicile they are furnished with a shelter, while waiting to get a place.—The kindness of the Irish to each other, of which this is one specimen, puts to the

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