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Title: Over the Ocean.

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: April 14, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00586

Source: New York Aurora 14 April 1842: [2]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Danielle Moore, Jason Stacy, Jon Thompson, and Kevin McMullen




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Over the Ocean.

The calm which prevails in the civilised world at the present time is of thrilling moment. It resembles the stillness which mariners, who sail in tropical seas, tell us invariably precedes the terrible, awful and desolating hurricane. For twenty-five years European nations have been at peace with each other, and the several excitements that have created bloodshed, have been the civil commotions of individual nations.1 Twenty-five years peace in Europe! The like has not occurred since Cæsar with his victorious legions invaded Britain near twenty centuries ago. This long spell of quiet and resting of armor has not arisen from any increase of peaceful morals, or love among nations. The lawyer's son of Corsica,2 that fiery symbol of despotic Democracy, had so drained Europe of her blood and her treasures, that the nations sympathetically, mechanically as it were, rested wearily upon their blood stained arms to recover once more their long spent strength. Napoleon, when at St. Helena, remarked that the next general war in Europe would end in a "war of opinion." This expression will be found prophetic.

There is not at this moment a nation in Europe but is prepared for war. England, in spite of her debt, and the miseries of a vast portion of her population, has increased her army; and her navy was never in a more fitting war condition that at the present time.3 Steam, (as great an addition to modern war as gunpowder was of old,—and its mighty power is not yet fathomed,) England possesses in a degree, far superior to any other nation.

France contains probably the most powerful and effective army of any continental power. Her navy has rapidly increased and improved from former times, and, like England, her war steamers are numerous.

Prussia and Austria keep their armies organized on the war service, ready for immediate action.

Russia, the black bear of the north, with her hordes of invading Cossacks, and her countless thousands of serf soldiers, feared and hated by all Europe as much as the overwhelming Huns and Goths of old, stands ready to "let slip the dogs of war."4

When the next conflict breaks out among any two of these five great nations, where will it end? God alone can determine. Is such a war far off? We think not—and our own country, perhaps, is destined to open the great political ball which will set the whole civilized world in the fiery course of a long and bloody war. Does it not, then, behove England to pause and contemplate her difficulties with us—her children, grown up to manhood? Had she better not yield a little of that proud and haughty spirit which, through a thousand years of triumphs and victories, has led her on to such a degree of ambition that she can bear no control in her desires and wishes? Her will has heretofore been her law. She should remember that Rome had its zenith; Greece reached her ascendancy and fell; Carthage was once the mistress of the seas; Troy has been, but is no more.

And now where are those once powerful and mighty nations—echo answers, where? They are remembered only in history, and the scholar of antiquity wanders among their classic ruins and reads in their remains the eternal revolving chapter of the decline and fall of empires.

We put the question to any reflecting Englishman, what would most likely be the result of a contest between America and England.5 We are young and growing—the blows that we should feel would only be on the gristle, but to England the end would be disastrous, suicidal. The Canadas would be ours—other nations would be dragged into the way—England, possessing within herself the smothered fires of resistance, would become the victim of external aggression and intestine division, and she would fall like the avalanche, crushing away her public debt, her present form of government, her colonies, her church and her aristocracy in one general mine.


Notes:

1. Following the French Revolutions and Napoleonic Wars, the countries of Europe experienced an extended period of peace thanks in part to the Congress of Vienna. [back]

2. A reference to Napoleon Bonaparte, whose father, Carlo, was a lawyer. [back]

3. During this time England had many war steamers at their disposal. From 1839–1842 England and the Qing dynasty of China were engaged in what was known as the First Opium War, which resulted in a British victory and the signing of the Treaty of Nanking in August 1842. [back]

4. A line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1, line 270. [back]

5. The United States and England were, at this time, engaged in an ongoing dispute over the border between the U.S. and Canada, with both sides threatening war. Whitman had also written about the conflict in an Aurora editorial of March 29 titled "Prospects of War." The dispute between the two nations was resolved with the Webster-Ashburton Treaty on August 9, 1842. See Howard Jones, To the Webster-Ashburton Treaty: A Study in Anglo-American Relations, 1793–1843 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011). [back]


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