Home  »  Prose Works  »  160. The First Spring Day on Chestnut Street

Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Prose Works. 1892.

I. Specimen Days

160. The First Spring Day on Chestnut Street

WINTER relaxing its hold, has already allow’d us a foretaste of spring. As I write, yesterday afternoon’s softness and brightness, (after the morning fog, which gave it a better setting, by contrast,) show’d Chestnut street—say between Broad and Fourth—to more advantage in its various asides, and all its stores, and gay-dress’d crowds generally, than for three months past. I took a walk there between one and two. Doubtless, there were plenty of hard-up folks along the pavements, but nine-tenths of the myriad-moving human panorama to all appearance seem’d flush, well-fed, and fully-provided. At all events it was good to be on Chestnut street yesterday. The peddlers on the sidewalk—(“sleeve-buttons, three for five cents”)—the handsome little fellow with canary-bird whistles—the cane men, toy men, toothpick men—the old woman squatted in a heap on the cold stone flags, with her basket of matches, pins and tape—the young negro mother, sitting, begging, with her two little coffee-color’d twins on her lap—the beauty of the cramm’d conservatory of rare flowers, flaunting reds, yellows, snowy lilies, incredible orchids, at the Baldwin mansion near Twelfth street—the show of fine poultry, beef, fish, at the restaurants—the china stores, with glass and statuettes—the luscious tropical fruits—the street cars plodding along, with their tintinnabulating bells—the fat, cab-looking, rapidly driven one-horse vehicles of the post-office, squeez’d full of coming or going letter-carriers, so healthy and handsome and manly-looking, in their gray uniforms—the costly books, pictures, curiosities, in the windows—the gigantic policemen at most of the corners—will all be readily remember’d and recognized as features of this principal avenue of Philadelphia. Chestnut street, I have discover’d, is not without individuality, and its own points, even when compared with the great promenade-streets of other cities. I have never been in Europe, but acquired years’ familiar experience with New York’s, (perhaps the world’s,) great thoroughfare, Broadway, and possess to some extent a personal and saunterer’s knowledge of St. Charles street in New Orleans, Tremont street in Boston, and the broad trottoirs of Pennsylvania avenue in Washington. Of course it is a pity that Chestnut were not two or three times wider; but the street, any fine day, shows vividness, motion, variety, not easily to be surpass’d. (Sparkling eyes, human faces, magnetism, welldress’d women, ambulating to and fro—with lots of fine things in the windows—are they not about the same, the civilized world over?)

  • How fast the flitting figures come!
  • The mild, the fierce, the stony face;
  • Some bright with thoughtless smiles—and some
  • Where secret tears have left their trace.
  • A few days ago one of the six-story clothing stores along here had the space inside its plate-glass show-window partition’d into a little corral, and litter’d deeply with rich clover and hay, (I could smell the odor outside,) on which reposed two magnificent fat sheep, full-sized but young—the handsomest creatures of the kind I ever saw. I stopp’d long and long, with the crowd, to view them—one lying down chewing the cud, and one standing up, looking out, with dense-fringed patient eyes. Their wool, of a clear tawny color, with streaks of glistening black—altogether a queer sight amidst that crowded promenade of dandies, dollars and drygoods.