Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Taylor, Bayard (1825–1878)
Author:
Gould, Mitch
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Whitman once suggested to Traubel that several of the least effectual allies in his campaign for free speech were eventually turned into adversaries by professional jealousy and an "awful belief in respectability" (With Walt Whitman 6:62). A.C. Swinburne and Bayard Taylor were at the top of this list. Taylor was a prolific Philadelphia travel writer, novelist, and poet. His poetic style, rooted in the classics and Victorian sentiment, brought him so little acclaim that he began to resent the mass appeal of his travel writing. Only his Faust translation is well known today.

In John Godfrey's Fortunes (1864), Taylor portrays Whitman as the Bohemian poet Mr. Smithers, who prefers "the fireman, in his red flannel shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to his shoulders" over fools with "the morbid sensitiveness which follows culture" (278). Taylor's "Echo Club" parodies, published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1872, called Leaves of Grass a "modern, half-Bowery-boy, half-Emersonian apprehension of the old Greek idea of physical life . . . A truer sense of art would have prevented . . . offensive frankness" (Echo Club 179–180).

Whitman noted that Taylor's Poems of the Orient (1854) "indirectly has a meaning" (Notebooks 5:1771), which, according to Byrne Fone, was Whitman's way of indicating a homosexual discourse. Thus Whitman was hardly surprised when Taylor confided that he found in his own nature both Whitman's "physical attraction" and "tender and noble love of man for man" (qtd. in Correspondence 1:295). Taylor offered his suspicious Quaker neighbors The Story of Kennett (1866) as an alternative to the fad of "exceptional or morbid" kinds of "psychological problems" (Kennett, Prologue ix), and his two male characters avoided a tender embrace because that "was the custom of the neighborhood" (Kennett 237). However, his odd novel Joseph and His Friend (1870) showed heroes holding hands and kissing, as dictated by "a loftier faith, a juster law," and "instincts, needs, knowledge, and rights—ay, rights! of their own" (214).

In 1856, George Boker, who was married, wrote Taylor, who was widowed, that he had "never loved anything human as I love you. It is a joy and a pride to my heart to know that this feeling is truly returned" (qtd. in Evans 115). In the years after 1874, Whitman may have intruded upon their Philadelphia turf, when the "florid, almost effusive" Boker (With Walt Whitman 6:226) invited him to dine "two or three times" (With Walt Whitman 6:234). By 1876, Taylor was blasting Whitman in the New York Tribune, and after that, the two never reconciled.

Bibliography

Beatty, Richmond. Bayard Taylor, Laureate of the Gilded Age. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1936.

Evans, Oliver H. George Henry Boker. Boston: Twayne, 1984.

Fone, Byrne. Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1992.

Taylor, Bayard. The Echo Club and Other Literary Diversions. Boston: Osgood, 1876.

———. John Godfrey's Fortunes. New York: Putnam, 1864.

———. Joseph and His Friend. New York: Putnam, 1870.

———. Poems of the Orient. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854.

———. The Story of Kennett. New York: Putnam, 1866.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 2. New York: Appleton, 1908; Vol. 6. Ed. Gertrude Traubel and William White. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1982.

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

———. Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts. Ed. Edward F. Grier. 6 vols. New York: New York UP, 1984.


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