Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Carpenter, George Rice (1863–1909)
Author:
Andriano, Joseph
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Professor of rhetoric and literature, first at Harvard (1888–1890), then at MIT (1890–1893), and finally at Columbia University (until his death), where he made significant contributions to its character and growth, Carpenter wrote many rhetoric textbooks and literary histories. He was best known for Episode of the Donna Pietosa (1888), which won him accolades from the Dante Society; sketches of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1901) and John Greenleaf Whittier (1903); and his biography of Walt Whitman (1909), part of the English Men of Letters Series.

Although now superseded by more recent and more thoroughly researched biographies, Carpenter's Walt Whitman was well received, especially by reviewers unaware that much of the information came (unacknowledged) from Bliss Perry's earlier biography of Whitman (rev. ed., 1908). Carpenter also relied on Richard Maurice Bucke (1883), whom he quotes several times; he shares Bucke's vision of Whitman as mystic, but tones down Bucke's ecstatic rhetoric.

Carpenter's biography—often reviewed favorably by his contemporaries as an objective and fair treatment of Whitman—certainly contributed to the more widespread acceptance of the poet in the early twentieth century. His view of Whitman primarily as a religious seer (whom he likens in his conclusion to St. Francis of Assisi) and his vision of Leaves of Grass as revealing the mystic unity of all things, however, seem now somewhat archaic and quaint.

Bibliography

Carpenter, George Rice. Walt Whitman. 1909. New York: Macmillan, 1924.

Wright, Ernest Hunter. "Carpenter, George Rice." Dictionary of American Biography. Ed. Allen Johnson. Vol. 3. New York: Scribner's, 1946. 511–512.


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