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Title: Some Thoughts about This Matter of the Washington Monument

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: October 18, 1847

Whitman Archive ID: per.00612

Source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle 18 October 1847: [2]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of the original issue. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: This piece is unsigned. However, Whitman was the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle when this editorial was written, and it was first attributed to Whitman by Cleveland Rodgers and John Black in Walt Whitman, The Gathering of the Forces: Editorials, Essays, Literary and Dramatic Reviews and Other Material Written by Walt Whitman as Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1846 and 1847 (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1920). The piece was also included by Herbert Bergman in Walt Whitman, The Journalism. Volume I: 1834–1846 (New York: Peter Lang, 1998). The Whitman Archive editors agree that the style and content of the piece are consistent with other known Whitman writings of this period.

Contributors to digital file: Ruth L. Bohan, Hannah Fink, and Kevin McMullen

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Some Thoughts about This Matter of the Washington Monument.—1

Such enthusiasm was hardly needed to prove how spontaneously the hearts of the American people respond to the name of WASHINGTON—and yet it is very glorious to see the people—thousands and hundreds of thousands of them—eagerly rushing to join in a testimony like the forthcoming monumental procession.2 But there is one point in which we confess to feel a pain; and that is, the plan of the structure of this monument. In a late visit to the American institute fair,3 we saw a picture underlined "Washington monument,"4 and were assured by an old gentleman who was receiving in a book subscriptions for the same, that that was the plan fixed upon by the monument committee. Of that plan, we cannot find terms to speak in sufficient contempt! It is a mixture without uniformity, without apparent design, and certainly without the least appropriateness. One of our New York contemporaries we notice throws doubt on the idea that this is the design. If it is, it will be a disgrace and a laughing–stock to the whole city and state. . . . . . . . And it is to be remarked that while every one of the papers is crying up the building of a Washington monument in New York—and crying up the procession too—not a single one, (except, we believe, an evening print,) seems to realize either the necessity of having an appropriate and most majestic structure; or the surpassing difficulty of planning such a structure. The notion seems to be that a monument is to be constructed—that it must cost a great many thousand dollars—and that it must be very big. We sadly fear that the whole thing will be an entire failure, and that every true artist, and most of our intelligent citizens, will wish the said monument blown up, the moment it is exposed to the public gaze!

To commemorate such a character as WASHINGTON5 we want, (we say,) no monument but his country, and his countrymen's hearts! When they forget him, let him be forgotten. It is all well enough to raise proud pieces of showy architecture to your Napoleons,6 your Walter Scotts,7 or your Wellingtons8—the "great men" of a few ages. But this pure and august being—this MAN without a flaw—asks no pile of brick, stone, and mortar raised! We do not want him brought down to the level of more common heroes. By the silent shore of the broad Potomac lie WASHINGTON'S mortal ashes;9 God has his spirit; and his country has his memory. Let his grave be undesecrated by any sacrilegious hand—and let the republic consign the task of preserving his name and fame to no meaner place than its children's bosoms. Is not that mausoleum—warmed by vital life–blood which will never forget the sainted hero as long as it flows—better than the cold pomp of marble? Leave such for common men; a higher desert is for WASHINGTON!

Such are our first feelings in the matter. But yet we might acknowledge the propriety of raising a truly grand and appropriate monument to WASHINGTON. It should be as sublime as the purest and highest genius of the ideal could design it—as perfect and durable as mechanism and art could make it; and have some little approach, at least, (it could have but little,) to the characteristics of the being whom it so boldly assumes to commemorate.


1. The date on the front page of this issue is October 18, 1847, but the date on the second page's masthead reads "MONDAY EVENING, OCT. 17." This latter is almost certainly an error, as the 17th of October, 1847, was a Sunday and the Eagle did not publish a Sunday issue. [back]

2. In 1833 the New York Washington Monument Association was incorporated to erect a monument in New York city to George Washington (1732–1799), Revolutionary War general and first President of the United States. The site finally chosen was Hamilton Square (which no longer exists) between Third and Fourth Avenue and 65th and 69th Streets. The laying of the cornerstone was scheduled for October 19, 1847, the anniversary of the British surrender to Washington at Yorktown, and to be accompanied by a grand parade. See Jacob Landy, "The Washington Monument Project in New York," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 29, no. 4 (December 1969): 291–97. [back]

3. Since 1829 the American Institute held a big fair annually in New York, which exhibited the latest in manufacturing, agriculture and machinery, as well as examples of creativity. [back]

4. The design for the planned Washington Monument was an elaborate Gothic tower designed by the New York architect Calvin Pollard (1797–1850). Originally planned for Hamilton Square the monument was to be constructed of granite, to rise to a towering 425 feet and to contain exhibition galleries, a library, artists' studios and an astronomical observatory. Following extensive objections, the monument was never built. Instead, an equestrian monument, sculpted by Whitman's friend, the sculptor Henry Kirke Brown, was erected in Union Square in 1856. See Landy, "The Washington Monument Project in New York," 291–97. [back]

5. On Whitman's connections to and fondness for Washington, see William A. Pannapacker, "Washington, George (1732–1799)," in J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York and London: Garland, 1998), 761. [back]

6. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), a French statesman and military leader, had several monuments erected in his honor. One of the most elaborate was the Vendôme Column erected in 1810 in Place Vendôme. Modeled after Trajan's Column, it was topped with a statue of Napoleon. [back]

7. Scottish novelist, poet, historian and playwright Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) was honored with an imposing 200–foot Gothic tower in Edinburgh, dedicated in 1846. [back]

8. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852) was an Anglo–Irish soldier, statesman and British Prime Minister honored with several large monuments, including the Wellington Arch erected in Hyde Park Corner in 1827 and surmounted in 1846 by a colossal 30–foot tall bronze equestrian statue of Wellington, which was subsequently removed. [back]

9. Washington was buried on the grounds of his home, Mount Vernon, in Virginia. [back]


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