Two Worlds United.1

Brooklyn Daily Times

AUGUST 17, 1858


By Walt Whitman


At last the great problem is solved. Old World and the New are united. The great Atlantic Telegraph enterprise, notwithstanding the doubts of the croakers and the sneers of the unbelieving, has gloriously succeeded, and all doubts are forever set at rest as to the practicability of spanning the world with telegraphic wire—of joining Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Australia together by electric current.


In the midst of this great triumph we cannot help thinking that the Queen’s Message, which was received by the President, via Trinity Bay, last evening, and duly passed on to the Capital, was utterly unworthy of the grandeur of the occasion—reminding us more of a mere form of words such as is supplied by a “Complete Letter Writer,” than such a grand sentiment as was expected to signalize this most extraordinary event in modern history.2 The disappointment felt by the people is deep and heartfelt. They3 were brimming over with excitement and enthusiasm, and the cold, formal message of the lady who is now the representative of English royalty, chilled them with a peculiar sense of its inappropriateness. If the communication had been sent in answer to an invitation to a public dinner or a ball, it could not have been more formal, stiff and disappointing than it is. That this was so, the entire press this morning united in agreeing, and the explanation given this afternoon in another column, though it helps matters along a good deal, is still not exactly what was expected.


The reply of the President is better4—commonplace enough, in all conscience—but still sufficiently significant for the occasion, and by the side of Her Majesty’s frigid “message” really appears in a most favorable contrast. Upon the whole, it is altogether too good for the “message,” both in style and tone. It seems to have been an enormous stretch of condescension on the part of “Victoria Regina” to communicate with the foremost man and chosen head and representative of America at all, even upon an occasion like the present.


Doubtless the people of our America must be highly flattered by the information that Her Majesty felt “the deepest interest” in this great work, which is destined to revolutionize the world, to establish, as the Directors on the other side said, “Peace on earth and good will to man,” and to accomplish such mighty results as have not yet been dreamed of by the most sanguine. The chilliness of the dispatch is truly refreshing in this August weather. Perhaps, however, we ourselves have not much to boast of. Neither despatch5 was quite worthy of the occasion.


But, at all events, our doubts are now set at rest, once and forever, as to the practicability of communicating across the Atlantic. In the grandeur of this greatest achievement of the Nineteenth Century, let us forget everything minor and petty, and think only of the immensity of the work that has been accomplished. Let all honor be paid to the originators of the enterprise who have carried it out to such a triumphant and successful conclusion. Let a generous and large-hearted recognition be made on the part of the public to those who have persevered to the end, amid doubt and danger, amid sneers and suspicion on the part of the conceited doubters who, from the beginning have thrown cold water on the grand undertaking. The great achievement is at all events recognized in its true light by the people of both countries. Over the mighty Atlantic, Saxon extends the hand of amity to Saxon. The two branches of the all-conquering race that is always progressing and extending its power and influence, whether in the icy Artic and Antarctic or in the tropical heats of India—which is the foremost race of all the earth—which is first in war, first in peace, first in all the beautifying and civilizing arts—which holds the destinies of the earth in its control—now are one in fact, as they have all along been in spirit, and as the lightning flashes from shore to shore, they mentally look into each others honest eyes and strike palms together in friendly greeting.6 Thank Heaven for this great boon to the human race—thank Heaven for this assurance—for it is an assurance—that misunderstandings and wars, and rumors of wars are at an end between the mother country and us. Beneath the Atlantic wave lies a chord of communication which, please God, will vibrate forever with the peaceful messages of commerce, the lightning-winged words of the press, and the thousand anxious queries of individual affection as to the health and happiness of the absent and the loved. We need add no more. The simple fact itself, that time and space are annihilated by man’s inventive power and that the whole world may “reason together”7 without the aid of palpable agencies is so sublime, that all commentary seems impertinent. It is useless for us to speculate as to the ultimate effects of this grand achievement. The two peoples, hereafter to be forever one, will work out the problem for themselves.











1. Transcribed from a photocopy of original in the papers of Herbert Bergman, East Lansing, Michigan. This editorial is listed in the appendixes of Walt Whitman, I Sit and Look Out: Editorials from the Brooklyn Daily Times by Walt Whitman, ed. Emory Holloway and Vernolian Schwarz (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), 194.


2. “The Queen desires to congratulate the President upon the successful completion of this great international work, in which the Queen has taken the deepest interest. The Queen is convinced that the President wil[l] join with her in fervently hoping that the electric cable, which now connects Great Britain with the United States, will prove an additional link between the two places whose friendship is founded upon their common interests and reciprocal esteem. The Queen has much pleasure in thus directly communicating with the President, and in renewing to him her best wishes for the prosperity of the United States.” John Mullaly, The Laying of the Cable, Or the Ocean Telegraph (New York: D. Appleton, 1zz58), 300.


3. The original reads “The . . .”


4. “The President cordially reciprocates the congratulations of her Majesty the Queen, on the success of the great international enterprise accomplished by the science, skill, and indomitable energy of the two countries. It is a triumph more glorious because far more useful to mankind, than was ever won by conqueror on the field of battle. May the Atlantic Telegraph, under the blessing of Heaven, prove to be a bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument destined by Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty and law throughout the world. In this view, will not all nations of Christendom spontaneously unite in the declaration that it shall be forever neutral, and that its communications shall be held sacred in passing to their places of destination, even in the midst of hostilities?” Mullaly, 300.


5. Spelling in original.


6. Whitman was not above this kind of ethnic triumphalism late in life as well: “The American people, ever sturdy, ever instinctively just, by right of Teutonic descent, have only to perceive any great wrong and the work of redemption is begun for that hour. I heartily approve of the action of the California Vigilance Committee, it is worthy of the promptness and just anger of the Anglo-Saxon race.” Horace Traubel and Thomas Harned, The Complete Prose Works of Walt Whitman (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1902), 7:24. See also Heidi Kathleen Kim, “From Language to Empire: Walt Whitman in the Context of Nineteenth-Century Popular Anglo-Saxonism,” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 24 (Summer 2006): 1–19.


7. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD.” Isaiah 1:18, KJV.

Douglas A. Noverr and Jason Stacy, Walt Whitman’s Selected Jour-nalism (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014), 102–104.