Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Stoddard, Richard Henry (1825–1903)
Author:
Hynes, Jennifer A.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Whitman endured a tempestuous relationship with this New York poet, critic, and editor. Throughout his lengthy career, and especially after 1870 when he had established a reputation, Stoddard formed a link between older, well-established writers and the younger New York crowd.

Born in Hingham, Massachusetts, Stoddard was raised in poverty after his sea-captain father was lost at sea. Stoddard went to work at eleven at various odd jobs before being apprenticed to an iron foundry. After marrying Elizabeth Drew Barstow, writer of fiction and poetry, Stoddard received Nathaniel Hawthorne's help in obtaining a New York Custom House post, a position he held for seventeen years.

Reports vary concerning Stoddard's connection to Whitman via the crowd of literary Bohemians that frequented Pfaff's Broadway restaurant. Gay Wilson Allen and Edwin Haviland Miller include Stoddard, along with his friends Edmund Clarence Stedman and Thomas Bailey Aldrich, with Whitman in the group that occupied a reserved table at the pub. But Stoddard was critical of the Bohemian crowd, and claimed in his Recollections that he had never entered Pfaff's but only once looked in the window.

Stoddard, whose poetry is compared with that of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, may not have understood Whitman's style. In Poets' Homes, Stoddard refers to "Song of Myself" as the piece that Whitman "oddly enough named for himself" (2:41), and most strongly praises one of Whitman's most conventional lyrics, "O Captain! My Captain!"

Stoddard's published criticism of Whitman widened the gap between the two. In his satirical review of William Douglas O'Connor's The Good Gray Poet in the Round Table, Stoddard criticized both the poet and O'Connor. Whitman speculated that Stoddard and New York Tribune drama critic William Winter had collaborated on negative reviews of Leaves of Grass in 1882. Most importantly, Whitman believed that a scathing letter on obscenity in Leaves of Grass, published under the pseudonym "Sigma" in the New York Tribune in 1882, was Stoddard's.

Bibliography

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

Macdonough, A.R. "Richard Henry Stoddard." Scribner's Monthly 20(Sept. 1880): 686–694.

O'Connor, William. The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication. New York: Bunce and Huntington, 1866.

Stedman, Edmund Clarence. Genius and Other Essays. New York: Moffat, Yard, 1911.

Stoddard, Richard Henry, et al. Poets' Homes: Pen and Pencil Sketches of American Poets and Their Homes. 2 vols, in one. Boston: D. Lothrop, 1879.

———. Recollections, Personal and Literary. Ed. Ripley Hitchcock. New York: A.S. Barnes, 1903.

———. Rev. of The Good Gray Poet, by William Douglas O'Connor. Round Table 3 (1866): 37.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. 6 vols. New York: New York UP, 1961–1977.


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