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

I. Specimen Days

170. Departing of the Big Steamers

May 15.—A THREE hours’ bay-trip from 12 to 3 this afternoon, accompanying “the City of Brussels” down as far as the Narrows, in behoof of some Europe-bound friends, to give them a good send off. Our spirited little tug, the “Seth Low,” kept close to the great black “Brussels,” sometimes one side, sometimes the other, always up to her, or even pressing ahead, (like the blooded pony accompanying the royal elephant.) The whole affair, from the first, was an animated, quick-passing, characteristic New York scene; the large, good-looking, well-dress’d crowd on the wharf-end—men and women come to see their friends depart, and bid them God-speed—the ship’s sides swarming with passengers—groups of bronze-faced sailors, with uniform’d officers at their posts—the quiet directions, as she quickly unfastens and moves out, prompt to a minute—the emotional faces, adieus and fluttering handkerchiefs, and many smiles and some tears on the wharf—the answering faces, smiles, tears and fluttering handkerchiefs, from the ship—(what can be subtler and finer than this play of faces on such occasions in these responding crowds?—what go more to one’s heart?)—the proud, steady, noiseless cleaving of the grand oceaner down the bay—we speeding by her side a few miles, and then turning, wheeling, amid a babel of wild hurrahs, shouted partings, ear-splitting steam whistles, kissing of hands and waving of handkerchiefs.

This departing of the big steamers, noons or afternoons—there is no better medicine when one is listless or vapory. I am fond of going down Wednesdays and Saturdays—their more special days—to watch them and the crowds on the wharves, the arriving passengers, the general bustle and activity, the eager looks from the faces, the clear-toned voices, (a travel’d foreigner, a musician, told me the other day she thinks an American crowd has the finest voices in the world,) the whole look of the great, shapely black ships themselves, and their groups and lined sides—in the setting of our bay with the blue sky overhead. Two days after the above I saw the “Britannic,” the “Donau,” the “Helvetia” and the “Schiedam” steam out, all off for Europe—a magnificent sight.