Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
American Phrenological Journal
Author:
Pannapacker, William A.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Published in New York by Fowler and Wells from January 1851 to April 1861, the American Phrenological Journal and Repository of Science, Literature and General Intelligence continued the American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany, which was published in Philadelphia by Adam Waldie from October 1838 to December 1850. In May 1861 it merged with Life Illustrated, another Fowler and Wells periodical, to form the American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, which ran from May of 1861 to December of 1869.

In the late 1840s Whitman developed a professional relationship with phrenologists Lorenzo and Orson Fowler and their partner, Samuel R. Wells. Fowler and Wells sold the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855) in their shop at 308 Broadway, and they permitted Whitman to use the American Phrenological Journal to advertise his book and to write his own review, "An English and an American Poet" (October 1855). The review contrasts Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Maud, and Other Poems (1855) with Leaves of Grass (1855). A statement of literary nationalism, Whitman's review describes Tennyson's poetry as a product of aristocratic decadence, while Whitman's poems are an outgrowth of democratic vitality. Whitman concludes that he will prove "either the most lamentable of failures or the most glorious of triumphs, in the known history of literature" (45).

The similarity in style between Whitman's review in the American Phrenological Journal and his 1855 Preface resulted in a controversy. It was not uncommon for writers in this period to review their own books: nevertheless, in an unsigned review in the New York Daily Times (13 November 1855) William Swinton accuses Whitman of dishonesty and egotism inconsistent with his poetic ideals.

Bibliography

Erkkila, Betsy. Whitman the Political Poet. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Bantam, 1982.

Larson, Kerry C. Whitman's Drama of Consensus. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Whitman, Walt. Complete Poetry and Collected Prose. Ed. Justin Kaplan. New York: Library of America, 1982.


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