WHITMAN’S BIRTHPLACE AT WEST HILLS, FROM THE LANE, 1904
This is not the first ancestral 杭州丝袜上门cabin of the Whitmans;[Pg 9] that lies at a little distance, nearer to the woods. It belongs now to another farm—the former holding having been divided—and the 杭州洗浴桑拿小姐服务 old cabin has become a waggon-shed. Both farms have long since passed out of the family; but near the first house, on a little woody knoll, you may still see the picturesque group of unlettered stones which cluster on the Whitman burying hill.
Neither Walt himself nor his father and mother are buried here among their relatives and ancestors; but the boy, so early pre-occupied with the mysteries of life, must have often stolen to this strange solitude to commune with its silence and to hear the wind among the branches, whispering of death. There is a big old oak near by, old perhaps as the first Whitman settlement, and a grove of beautiful black walnuts, and this, 杭州足浴油压论坛 too, was one of the children’s haunts.
Such was the old Whitman home and country, to which the boy’s earliest memories belonged, where he spent some of the years and 杭州spa油压 nearly all the holidays of his youth and early manhood, and in which his later thoughts found their natural background, his deepest consciousness its native soil. It is, as we have seen, no tame or narrow country, but wide and generous, and it is within sound of the sea. In the still night that succeeds a storm, you may hear the strange low murmur of the Atlantic surf beating upon the coast. The boy was born in the hills, with that sea-murmur about him.
CHAPTER II BOYHOOD IN BROOKLYN
The hill-range which forms the back-bone of Long Island, and upon whose slopes Walt Whitman was born, terminates on the west in Brooklyn Heights, which overlook the busy bay and crowded city of New York.
The heights recall Washington’s masterly retreat; and the hint is enough to remind the shame-faced English visitor that the American is not without cause for a certain coolness in the very genuine affection which he manifests for the mother country. ’Seventy-six and the six years that followed, with all their legacy of bitter thoughts, was succeeded by 1814 and the burning of the Capitol. In this later war it was Virginia, not New England, that took the initiative; Massachusetts and Connecticut even opposed it, and it may have been none too popular in adjacent Long Island.
It is doubtful whether Major van Velsor or his sons actually took the field against the British. But this second and last of the Anglo-American wars was still a bitter and vivid memory when in May, 1823, towards Walt’s fourth birthday, his father, the old major’s son-in-law, left the farm, removing with his family to Front Street, Brooklyn, near the wharves and water-side.
Though but a country town with great elm-trees still shading its main thoroughfare, Brooklyn was growing,[Pg 11] and its trade was brisk. It is likely that the carpenter, Whitman, framed more than one of the hundred and fifty houses which were added to it during the year.
In the meantime, Walt took advantage of his improved situation to study men and manners in a sea-port town. He watched the ferry-boats that for the last ninety years had plied to and fro, binding Brooklyn to its big neighbour opposite upon Manhattan Island. For another sixty years their decks provided the only roadway across the East River, and they still go back and forward loaded heavily, in spite of the two huge but graceful bridges which now span the grey waters. The boy gazed wondering at the patient horse in the round house on deck, which, turning like a mule at a wheel-pump, provided the propelling power for the ferry-boat till Fulton replaced him by steam.
The boy in frocks must have wondered, too, at the great shows and pageants of 1824 and 1825 which filled New York with holiday-making crowds. For in August of the former year, came the old hero of two Republics, General Lafayette, to be received with every demonstration of admiring gratitude by the people of America. Some scintilla of the glory of those
days—pale reflection, as it was, of the far-away tragic radiance that lighted up the world at the awakening of Justice and of Liberty on both sides of the sea—fell upon the child. For when the old soldier visited Brooklyn to lay the corner-stone of a library there, he found the youngster in harm’s way and lifted him, with a hearty kiss, on to a coign of vantage. Thus, at six years old, Walt felt himself already famous.
Again, a few months later, the city was all ablaze with lights and colour and congratulations on the opening of the Erie Canal, which connected New York with Ohio and promised to break the monopoly of Western commerce held hitherto by the queen city of the Mississippi.
By this time, the family counted four children; two brothers, Jesse and Walt, and two little girls, Mary and[Pg 12] Hannah, all born within six years. Of the children, Walt and Hannah appear to have been special friends, but we have little record of this period. As they grew old enough, they attended the Brooklyn public school and went duly to Sunday school as well. In the summers they spent many a long holiday in the fields and lanes about West Hills.
A reminiscence of those times is enshrined in one of the best known of the Leaves of Grass, written more than a quarter of a century later, a memory of the May days when the boy discovered a mocking-birds’ nest containing four pale green eggs, among the briars by the beach, and watched over them there from day to day till presently the mother-bird disappeared; and then of those September nights when, escaping from his bed, he ran barefoot down on to the shore through the windy moonlight, flung himself upon the sand, and listened to the desolate singing of the widowed he-bird close beside the surf. There, in the night, with the sea and the wind, he lay utterly absorbed in the sweet, sad singing of that passion, some mystic response awakening in his soul; till in an ecstasy of tears which flooded his young cheeks, he felt, rather than understood, the world-meaning hidden in the thought of death.
This self-revealing reminiscence, even if it should prove to diverge from historic incident and to take some colour from later thought, illumines the obscurity which covers the inner life of his childhood. Elsewhere we can dimly see him as his mother’s favourite; towards her he was always affectionate. But with his father he showed himself wayward, idle, self-willed and independent, altogether a difficult lad for that kindly but taciturn[Pg 13] and determined man to manage. Walt retained these qualities, and they caused endless trouble to every ill-advised person who afterwards attempted the task in which worthy Walter Whitman failed.
Among his young companions, though he was not exactly imperious, Walt seems to have played the part of a born leader; he was a clever boy; he always had ideas, and he always had a following. And as a rule he was delightful to be with, for he had an unflagging capacity for enjoyment and adventure.
But there must have been times when he was moody and reserved.杭州三通夜网 The passionate element in his nature which the song of the mocking-bird aroused belongs rather to night solitudes than to perpetual society and sunshine. As he grew older, and, perhaps, somewhat overgrew his physical strength, he was often unhappy in himself. There was something tempestuous in him which no one understood, he himself least of any. Probably his wise and very human mother came nearest to understanding; and her heart was with him as he fought out his lonely battles with that strange enemy of Youth’s peace, the soul.