Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Ashton, J. Hubley (1836–1907)
Author:
Bawcom, Amy M.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Lawyer, government official, and professor at Georgetown University, J[oseph] Hubley Ashton was one of the founders of the American Bar Association and a long-time friend of William Douglas O'Connor, who was among Whitman's closest associates and most fervent admirers.

In January 1865, in his capacity as Assistant Attorney General of the United States, Ashton played a key role in finding Whitman a full-time government clerkship in the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the Department of the Interior. Something of a sinecure, this job enabled Whitman to write his poetry and, at the same time, perform his ministrations as a nurse in the Civil War hospitals in and around Washington, D.C. In June, however, Whitman was dismissed from this position by Secretary of the Interior James W. Harlan because Harlan had discovered, on or in Whitman's desk, Whitman's personal, marked copy of the 1860 Leaves of Grass (the so-called Blue Book) and had found in it passages of poetry he deemed offensive and immoral. Ashton attempted to intervene with Harlan on Whitman's behalf, but to no avail. However, Ashton again made a signal contribution, this time by finding a clerkship for Whitman in the office of the Attorney General, a position he would occupy for the next eight years.

Although he would eventually claim that his interventions on Whitman's behalf were all due to the promptings of the poet's devoted friend William O'Connor, Ashton nevertheless demonstrated his own active interest in Whitman's affairs in Washington.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Loving, Jerome. Walt Whitman's Champion: William Douglas O'Connor. College Station: Texas A&M UP, 1978.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 3. 1914. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961.


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