Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Swinton, John (1829–1901)
Author:
Yannella, Donald
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

A respected journalist, reformer, and labor activist, John Swinton knew Whitman and admired the man and his work from their first meeting, probably between 1855 and 1857. He was one of the regular Bohemian crowd that gathered at Pfaff's, an enthusiast about Leaves of Grass—he apparently read the first edition right after publication—and was instrumental in arranging the prisoner exchange which freed Whitman's brother George by contacting General Grant. Swinton was usually well connected.

Born in Scotland, as was his brother William, he resided there until the family's migration to Canada in 1843; like Whitman, he learned the journalism trade from the ground up, beginning as an apprentice printer in Montreal, then working as a journeyman in New York. He took courses in the classics, studied medicine, worked in South Carolina as a compositor, and went to Kansas when matters were heating up, though he arrived too late to witness John Brown's engagement with the Border Ruffians. He became a major figure on the editorial staff of Henry J. Raymond's New York Times through most of the 1860s, having started there around 1858. Not a socialist, but an acquaintance and admirer of Karl Marx, Swinton espoused radical social views, and the devout Scottish Calvinist worked for numerous papers including the more conservative Sun, edited by Charles A. Dana, which is probably a testament to an integrity uncompromised by radical views. He ran a controversial labor weekly, John Swinton's Paper, from 1883 to 1887, and wrote a few short books. He remained loyal and close to Whitman until the end.

Bibliography

Hollis, C. Carroll. "Whitman and William Swinton." American Literature 30 (1959): 425–449.

Hyman, Martin D. "'Where the Drinkers and Laughers Meet': Pfaff's: Whitman's Literary Lair." Seaport 26 (1992): 56–61.

Lalor, Gene. "Whitman among the New York Literary Bohemians: 1859–1862." Walt Whitman Review 25 (1979): 131–145.

Parry, Albert. Garretts and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America. 1933. New York: Dover, 1960.

Waters, Robert. Career and Conversation of John Swinton. Chicago: Stokes, 1902.

White, William. "Whitman and John Swinton: Some Unpublished Correspondence." American Literature 39 (1968): 547–553.


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