Sermon Occasioned by the Execution of a Man Found Guilty of Murder
Preached at Boston in New-England, March 11th 1685/6 (Together with the confession. Last Expressions. and Solemn Warning of that Murderer, to all Persons; especially to Young Men, to beware of those Sins which brought him to his Miserable End.)
Thanks in old age—thanks ere I go,
For health, the midday sun, the impalpable air—for life, mere
For precious ever-lingering memories, (of you my mother dear
—you, father—you, brothers, sisters, friends,)
For all my days—not those of peace alone—the days of war the
For gentle words, caresses, gifts from foreign lands,
For shelter, wine and meat—for sweet appreciation,
(You distant, dim unknown—or young or old—countless, unspecified, readers belov’d,
We never met, and ne’er shall meet—and yet our souls embrace,
long, close and long;)
For beings, groups, love, deeds, words, books—for colors, forms,
For all the brave strong men—devoted, hardy men—who’ve forward sprung in freedom’s help, all years, all lands,
For braver, stronger, more devoted men—(a special laurel ere I
go, to life’s war’s chosen ones,
The cannoneers of song and thought—the great artillerists—the
foremost leaders, captains of the soul:)
As soldier from an ended war return’d—As traveler out of
myriads, to the long procession retrospective,
Thanks—joyful thanks!—a soldier’s, traveler’s thanks.
Her words struck me. It may seem obvious. But my friend, their sister, puts it so well. I can hear Walt Whitman saying the same thing.
We mourn the dead. We were blessed to have had them. (I think of my parents, and so many others.)
Yes, existence in the here and now matters. But just as our life, everyone’s, our existence, is a miracle — people on earth — so was the existence of those no longer living: that they did live; and, in the case of our loved ones and friends, were part of our existence.
James Redpath (1833–1891) was the author of The Public Life of Capt. John Brown, a correspondent for the New York Tribune during the war, the originator of the “Lyceum” lectures, and editor of the North America Review, beginning in 1886. He met Walt Whitman in Boston in 1860 and remained an enthusiastic admirer.
One of the most beloved and tender hearted of the visitors at the hospitals in Washington, is Walt. Whitman, author of Leaves of Grass. However his “barbaric yawp” may sound over other roofs, it sends sweet music into the sick wards of the Capital. A gentleman who accompanied him on several of his visits, relates that his coming was greeted by the soldiers unvarying pleasure, and that he soothed the homesick boys so often seen there, with a tenderness that no woman could excel. His friends say that he cured one or two young soldiers who were dying of homesickness, by his sympathy and loving-kindness. Dying of homesickness is no figure of speech, but a reality of weekly occurrence in our army. To such invalids the religious tract, or the mechanical consolations of theology, give no relief; not musty manna from the church wilderness, but living waters of sympathy from the warm heart of man who loves them is what they need to save them. And this they get from the rough singer of Brooklyn. Walt. like other poets, is not excessively rich, and therefore may not stay in Washington much longer; but as long as he can afford to remain he means to keep at his self-elected and unpaid post, doing good to the sick and wounded. What a pity that when so many thousands of dollars are spent to but little purpose for this work that a hundred or two could not be devoted to retain this efficient volunteer.
Richard J. Hinton (1830–1901) was born in London and came to the US in 1851. He trained as a printer, and, like James Redpath, went to Kansas and joined John Brown’s militant group of abolitionists.
Hinton was the author of Hand-book to Kansas Territory and the Rocky Mountains’ Gold Region (1859). Later he wrote Rebel Invasion of Missouri and Kansas (1865) and John Brown and His Men (1894). Apparently, Hinton had suggested that Thayer & Eldridge print Leaves of Grass.
Hinton served in the Union Army from 1861 to 1865, and saw Whitman while lying wounded in a hospital, a scene which he described in the Cincinnati Commercial on August 26, 1871:
When this old heathen [Walt Whitman] came and gave me a pipe and tobacco, it was “about the most joyous moment of my life …. There were plenty of [other visitors] I assure you. The little bay at the head of my cot was full of tracts and testaments, and every Sunday there were half a dozen old roosters who would come into my ward and preach and pray and sing to us, while we were swearing to ourselves all the time, and wishing the blamed fools would go away. Walt Whitman’s funny stories, and his pipes and tobacco were worth more than all the preachers and tracts in Christendom. A wounded soldier don’t like to be reminded of his God more than twenty times a day. Walt Whitman didn’t bring any tracts or Bibles; he didn’t ask if you loved the Lord, and didn’t seem to care whether you did or not.
— H.J. R. [Richard Hinton], “A Reminiscence,” Cincinnati Commercial, August 26, 1871.
YEAR of meteors! brooding year!
I would bind in words retrospective, some of your deeds
I would sing your contest for the 19th Presidentiad;
I would sing how an old man, tall, with white hair,
mounted the scaffold in Virginia;
(I was at hand—silent I stood, with teeth shut close—I
I stood very near you, old man, when cool and indifferent, but trembling with age and your unheal’d
wounds, you mounted the scaffold;)
I would sing in my copious song your census returns of
The tables of population and products—I would sing of
your ships and their cargoes,
The proud black ships of Manhattan, arriving, some
fill’d with immigrants, some from the isthmus
with cargoes of gold;
Songs thereof would I sing—to all that hitherward
comes would I welcome give;
And you would I sing, fair stripling! welcome to you
from me, sweet boy of England!
Remember you surging Manhattan’s crowds, as you
passed with your cortege of nobles?
There in the crowds stood I, and singled you out with
I know not why, but I loved you…(and so go forth
Far over sea speed like an arrow, carrying my love all
And find in his palace the youth I love, and drop these
lines at his feet;)
—Nor forget I to sing of the wonder, the ship as she
swam up my bay,
Well-shaped and stately the Great Eastern swam up my
bay, she was 600 feet long,
Her moving swiftly, surrounded by myriads of small
craft, I forget not to sing;
Nor the comet that came unannounced, out of the north,
flaring in heaven,
Nor the strange huge meteor procession, dazzling and
clear, shooting over our heads,
(A moment, a moment long, it sail’d its balls of unearth-
ly light over our heads,
Then departed, dropt in the night, and was gone;)
—Of such, and fitful as they, I sing—with gleams from
them would I gleam and patch these chants;
Your chants, O year all mottled with evil and good!
year of forebodings! year of the youth I love!
Year of comets and meteors transient and strange!—lo!
even here, one equally transient and strange!
As I flit through you hastily, soon to fall and be gone,
what is this book,
What am I myself but one of your meteors?
Herman Melville, “The Portent”
Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
The cut is on the crown
(Lo, John Brown),
And the stabs shall heal no more.
Hidden in the cap
Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the war.
Thirty years of taking-in; fifteen years of giving out; —that, in brief, is Oliver Goldsmith’s story. When, in 1758, his failure to pass at Surgeons’ Hall finally threw him on letters for a living, the thirty years were finished, and the fifteen years had been begun. What was to come he knew not; but, from his bare-walled lodging in Green-Arbour-Court, he could at least look back upon a sufficiently diversified past. He had been an idle, orchard-robbing schoolboy; a tuneful but intractable sizar of Trinity; a lounging, loitering, fair-haunting, flute-playing Irish “buckeen.” He had tried both Law and Divinity, and crossed the threshold of neither. He had started for London and stopped at Dublin; he had set out for America and arrived at Cork. He had been many things :—a medical student, a strolling musician, a corrector of the press, an apothecary, an usher at a Peckham “academy.” Judged by ordinary standards, he had wantonly wasted his time. And yet, as things fell out, it is doubtful whether his parti-coloured experiences were not of more service to him than any he could have obtained if his progress had been less erratic. Had he fulfilled the modest expectations of his family, he would probably have remained a simple curate in Westmeath, eking out his ” forty pounds a year” by farming a field or two, migrating contentedly at the fitting season from the “blue bed to the brown,” and (it may be) subsisting vaguely as a local poet upon the tradition of some youthful couplets to a pretty cousin, who had married a richer man. As it was, if he could not be said “to have seen life steadily, and seen it whole,” he had, at all events, inspected it pretty narrowly in parts; and, at a time when he was most impressible, had preserved the impress of many things which, in his turn, he was to impress upon his writings. “No man “—says one of his biographers”*—ever put so much of himself into his books as Goldsmith.” To his last hour he was ·drawing upon the thoughts and reviving the memories of that “unhallowed time” when, to all appearance, he was hopelessly squandering his opportunities. To do as Goldsmith did, would scarcely enable a man to write a Vicar of Wakefield or a Deserted Village,—certainly his practice cannot be preached with safety “to those that eddy round and round.” But viewing his entire career, it is difficult not to see how one part seems to have been an indispensable preparation for the other, and to marvel once more (with the philosopher Square) at “the eternal Fitness of Things.”**
— Austin Dobson, Introduction, Poems and Plays By Oliver Goldsmith (Everyman’s Library, 1910)
*John Forster, author of The Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith.
**A quotation from a fictional character, the philosopher Square, who is parodied in Fielding’s novel Tom Jones.
Sea-cabbage; salt hay; sea-rushes; ooze–sea-ooze; gluten–sea-gluten; sea-scum; spawn; surf; beach; salt-perfume; mud; sound of walking barefoot ankle in the edge of the water by the sea. — Walt Whitman
— Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, Volume IV: Notes, edited by Edward F. Grier (New York University Press 1984), pg. 1309
Walt Whitman “Philosophy of Ferries,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 11, 1947
IN The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman; Much of Which Has Been But Recently Discovered, with Various Early Manuscripts; Now First Published; Collected and Edited by Emory Holloway, Volume One, pp. 168-171 (Gloucester, Mass. Peter Smith, 1972)
an unsigned article attributed to Whitman, reprinted in
New York Dissected By Walt Whitman: A Sheaf of Recently Discovered Newspaper Articles by the Author of LEAVES OF GRASS; Introduction and Notes by Emory Holloway and Ralph Adimari (New York: Rufus Rockwell Wilson, Inc. 1936), pp. 119-124
Whitman’s experiences and impressions in his pre-Civil War years are similar to my own in Manhattan jaunts. (I also love to take the ferry.) As noted by Emory Holloway and Ralph Adimari:
When Moncure D. Conway, at Emerson’s suggestion, called upon Whitman a month or so after the appearance of Leaves of Grass, in 1855, he took a walk with him through the city. “Nothing could surpass,” he says, “the blending of insouciance with active observation in his manner as we strolled along the streets”. … Whitman had been walking the streets, riding the omnibuses and crossing the ferries for many years. His memory was stored with so many such impressions that one of his early manuscripts describes his mind as a picture gallery. Perhaps it was from a desire to reconcile the contradictions in these multiform and inharmonious impressions that the poet sought escape in mystical rhapsody. The peculiar quality of Whitman’s elevated poetic mood, however, is due to the fact that instead of withdrawing his mind ascetically from experience, he sought rather to use definite concrete experiences to climb to a summit of vision which would embrace them all.