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Title: Fortunes of a Country-Boy; Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as J. R. S.]

Date: November 19, 1846

Whitman Archive ID: per.00283

Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, November 19, 1846: 1. Transcribed from digital images of a microfilm reproduction of an original issue. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the fiction, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stephanie Blalock, Nicole Gray, and Ed Folsom

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A Moral Tale.


Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South.


BY J. R. S. ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙.



I tremble now as I look back upon the results which have sprung from the conduct of that single night, as from one seed of evil. Over the lapse of ten years I gaze, and the scene comes back to me again in the most vivid reality. I can remember even the colors of the chequer-board, and the appearance of the little table, and the very words of some of the songs that were sung. We drank—not once only, but again and again.

Yes, with a singular distinctness, the whole appearance of the room, and of the men with their hats on and cigars in their mouths, that sat all about, is as plain before my eyes as though it were painted in a picture there. It was all new to me then. A hundred more exciting scenes have passed over my head since, and have left no impression, while this is marked as with a steel pencil upon the tablets of my memory.

I remember being struck with the appearance of one poor fellow in a corner. He probably was not much older than myself; yet his face was bloated, his eyes inflamed, and he leaned back in that state of drowsy drunkenness which it is so disgusting to behold. I presume his companions—those who had made merry with him until he was brought to this stage of degradation—had left him in scorn; and there he sat, or rather supported himself in the corner, not half awake, and the subject of many a gibe and light laugh. Was it not a warning to me? And yet I was not warned.

After a time, some of the white-aproned subordinates of the place came to him, roughly broke his slumbers, and put him forth from the place. Miserable man! Without doubt, he now sleeps the sleep which no jostle can awaken, and which no curl of the lip, or gibe of the scoffer, can start from its dark repose.

Colby saw at length that he had been too heedless with me. Used as he was to the dissipation of city life, he forgot that I was from the country, and never in my life before engaged in such a scene of pleasure.

With some difficulty preserving the steadiness of my peace, as we left the room, I took his arm, and he walked with me toward my residence. Indeed, if he had not done so, I question whether I should have reached it; for my head swam, and the way in the night was somewhat difficult to find. Leaving me at the door, my companion bade me good night, and departed.

I entered, took a light from a number which were left upon a table in the hall for the use of the boarders, and slowly ascended the stairs to my room.—My slumbers were deep and unbroken. So were those of the preceding evening, and yet the nature of each was widely different. The former was the repose of health and innocence—the latter the dull lethargy of drunkenness.


Chapter IV.

The reflections which operated in my mind the next morning, are not a sufficiently tempting theme for me to dwell upon. I can hardly say that shame and remorse possessed me to such a degree, as to counterbalance the physical discomfort which weighed painfully upon every part of my frame.

In the course of the forenoon, I visited my antiquarian merchant friend, Mr. Lee. He had not forgotten me, but was as good as his word. His own establishment, he said, already employed a sufficiency of clerks and attendants, whom he could not turn out without doing them injustice. He had made inquiries, and informed me that a Mr. Andrews, a gentleman doing business in Wall street, with whom he was slightly acquainted, might be able to give me a situation.

My patron wrote a note, addressed to Andrews, which I carried to that personage. I found him in a handsome granite edifice, in a back room furnished sumptuously, out of which opened another, fronting on the street. It was a bank. Numerous people were constantly coming and going, upon business; everything was transacted with a quiet easy air, and without much bustle, though I could see that the matters which were discussed involved the value of thousands of dollars.

What conceivable situation Mr. Lee could have had in view for me there, I could not imagine; but I was soon undeceived. Mr. Andrews looked over the note, and called me to him. He was a thin, black eyed, rather delicate-looking man, and had a completely professional appearance. He told me he was a lawyer, and that his connection with the situation in which I saw him did not prevent him from attending to his other avocations. He wanted some one as a kind of clerk, porter and errand boy—three in one—to take care of his office while he was absent. The office was in an upper part of the same street.

I readily agreed to accept the terms which Andrews proposed, and he desired me to commence my duties on the morrow. As I took my departure from the place, who should I see in front, with a quill behind his ear, but my market-wagon acquaintance, Demaine. I accosted him with the salutation of the day, but he made a very slight and cool answer; and as I did not care much about his good will, I went forth without further parley.

Somewhat at a loss what to do with myself, I walked down to Colby's place of business, and made him promise to call upon me again that evening, as he had the preceding one.

"And how have you felt to-day?" said he, smiling mischievously; "you country boys cannot hold up under a few glasses, like us of the city."

I blushed, as I brought to mind the folly I had committed, and internally thought I could never be guilty of it again.

"I know," answered I, "that there are many things in which you will find me rather awkward. But my visit here, to ask you again to-night, proves that I am willing to get knowledge."

Knowledge! Better would it have been for me had I remained in ignorance through the whole course of my life, than attained to such knowledge.

When Colby came in the evening, and we started out to walk as before, I felt determined not to vist the musical drinking-house again. I had always (like most young country fellows,) felt a desire to go to the theatre. And as Colby was willing, we bent our steps to that place of amusement now. On our way we were joined by a third person named Mitchell, a friend of my friend's. I tried to appear as much at ease as possible—though every thing was stranger to me, even than before.

The house was crowded. Beautiful women and elegant men—moustached dandies and lively youth—brilliant fashionables of all varieties, combined to render the scene exhilarating and splendid. And the music from the orchestra, now soft and subdued, now bursting out with notes of thunder—how delicious it glided into the ear! The curtain drew up and the play began. It was one of those flippant affairs, that pretend to give a picture of society and manners among the exclusive. The plot worse than meagre—the truthfulness of the scene a gag, which ought not to have excited aught but ridicule—the most nauseous kind of mock aristocracy tinging the dialogue from beginning to end—yet it was received with applause, and at the conclusion, with vociferous and repeated cheers! The manager had printed upon his bills that London was pleased with it, and that one of the scenes represented life as in the private parlor of an English Duke—with the curtains, carpets, and drapery of the parlor, as good as real! I blushed for the good sense of my countrymen.

In the farce which followed, one of the characters was a wild hoyden of a girl. It was done very agreeably by one of the actresses, whose beauty excited my admiration to no small degree. So much indeed was I fascinated with her, that I expressed my opinion in prodigious terms. I vowed that if I could see her, side by side, and speak to her, I would give the world. Mitchell, the one who made the third of our party, listened to me for some time with a kind of sober surprise; and then, giving a wink to Colby, told me he was acquainted with the actress who had pleased me so much, and would introduce me to her that very evening, if I desired. I thanked him a thousand times.

In the interval between the acts, my eyes were attracted by the figure of a young gentleman in the stage-box, (we sat in the pit,) who seemed to me a perfect pattern of perfection in his dress and manners—in fact, a gentleman of the highest order. I saw Mitchell looking at him also.

"Do you know him?" said I.

"Yes," he answered.

"A fine looking fellow," said I.

He assented.

When the play was over, we went out. Along by the theatre, there were the glaring gas lights of several fashionable refrectories.

"Gentlemen," said our companion, "suppose we go down here, and get some oysters."

We agreed, and down we went.

While waiting in our little box, Mitchell called one of the men in attendance:

"John, bring us a bottle of Port."

The wine was brought.

"Mr. Evans," said Mitchell to me, "do you know I have a fancy always to be served by a particular individual in this refectory? Just notice the man's face, now, and tell me what you think of my taste."

When the waiter came again, in obedience to our companion's call, he held him in talk several minutes about some trivial details respecting the cooking of the articles we had ordered. When he went out, I looked up in Mitchell's face—

"Why," said I, "that—that—that man is the very fellow!"

"What very fellow?"

"He is the picture of the gentleman we saw in the boxes at the theatre!"

"I dare say he is the person; in fact, I know he is."

I changed the subject, and we finished our oysters.

"And now," said Mitchell to me, "if your friend Colby will wait here five minutes, I will introduce you to the actress."

My mistake in regard to the fashionable gentleman, had taught me a lesson, and my country life had taught me also to keep better hours. So I would have excused myself, but Mitchell seemed anxious that I should go with him.

"It's but a step," said he.

So we walked round the block, into a dirty alley leading to the rear of the theatre. Mitchell told me he had the entree there (to the theatre, I mean, not the alley) and in we walked.

I pass over my stares of wonder, and my running aslant dungeon walls, castles, and canvas palaces. We reached an open space, on one side, where there were quite a number of persons idling. At a little table sat a woman, eating some cheese and thick bread, and drinking at intervals from a dingy pewter mug, filled with beer. She was coarse—her eyes had that sickly bleared appearance, which results from the constant glitter of strong light upon them; her complexion was an oily brown, now quite mottled with paint, and her feet and ancles were encased in thick ill-blacked shoes.

Mitchell went up to the table, (I leaning on his arm,) and engaged in chit chat with the delectable creature. He introduced me. I was thunderstruck! She was my charmer, the hoyden in the farce! Her voice was coarse and masculine, and her manners on a par with her voice.

After ten minute's conversation, we bade the lady good night, and wended our way back to Colby, whom we found waiting for us. Neither myself nor Mitchell alluded to the subject, and Colby, no doubt understanding how matters stood, did not mention it either.

The occurrences of the night, I may as well confess, taught me to question the reality of many things I afterward saw; and reflect that, though to appearance they were showy, they might prove, upon trial, as coarse as the ating-house waiter, or the blear-eyed actress. I lost also, some of that reverence, and that awkward sense of inferiority, which most country-folk, when they take up their abode in this brick-and-pine Babel, so frequently show—and which, by the way, is as amusing to the observers, as it is unfair to themselves.

To be continued.1


1. Click here for the next installment of "Fortunes of a Country-Boy." [back]


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