WW, May 31, 1819
Look: There’s Walt Whitman.
It’s very late – no, make that very early – and he’s walking down
Broadway, right near St. Paul’s Church. It’s now spring, and while the
day was unmistakably warm, there’s a wintry chill in the air tonight.
Walt doesn’t mind. He’s wearing wool pants, a cotton shirt, a wool
jacket and a hat (“a plain, neat fashionable one from Banta’s, 130
Chatham Street, which we got gratis, on the strength of giving him this
puff,” he writes in a recent piece in the Aurora,
a newspaper he’s editing these days). His boots and cane – a little
silly for a hale man in his early twenties to be using one, but then
Walt is a bit of a fop – resound on the paving stones, as do the sounds
of horses’ hooves up ahead, where a carriage crosses his path. Broadway
is unusually quiet tonight and the gas lamps only barely cut the
darkness. He sees two candles in a nearby window on the corner of Fulton
He’s been to a play. Good company, good seats, good – not great – show.
He’s a little tired now as he heads back to his boardinghouse, but
happy. He thinks of a woman he saw on his way to dinner. He remembers,
and puts aside, a disagreeable task. He hears those boots as they hit
the paving stones. He’d like a pair of new ones.
some false starts and missteps, he’s finally beginning to make progress
in his chosen vocation. He’s got big plans – an idea for a novel he
wants to start soon – and inchoate dreams of fame and fortune.
“Strangely enough, nobody stared at us with admiration,” he thinks, with
that plural pronoun he likes to use in his pieces. “Nobody said ‘there
goes Whitman, of Aurora! –
nobody ran after us to take a better, and better look – no ladies turned
their beautiful necks and smiled at us – no apple women became pale
with awe – no news boys stopped and trembled, and took off their hats.’”
Walt smiles, self-mockingly. But he knows we’re watching him. He is