Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Whittier, John Greenleaf (1807–1892)
Author:
Rechel-White, Julie A.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

John Greenleaf Whittier—poet, essayist, hymn writer, journalist, and editor—was, like Whitman, born of Quaker parentage and was best-loved for "Barbara Frietchie" (1863) and "Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl" (1866). Whittier was initially averse to Whitman, throwing his complimentary copy of Leaves of Grass into the fire; in later years, however, he became more cordial to Whitman.

It was Whittier who first celebrated the common man in six "Songs of Labor"—"The Shoemakers," "The Fishermen," "The Lumbermen," "The Ship-Builders," "The Drovers," and "The Huskers"—which he contributed to the Democratic Review and the National Era in 1845–1847. Whittier engaged the attention of Whitman with his stern editorial pronouncements in the Haverhill Gazette rejecting war, imprisonment for debt, capital punishment, and the denial of voting rights for women. Despite Whitman's moving descriptions of the wounded in Washington hospitals in Leaves, Whittier, having published a collection of war songs, National Lyrics (1865), still refused to acknowledge the merit of Whitman's work.

However, in August of 1885, along with a ten-dollar contribution toward a horse and buggy for the lame gray poet, Whittier included a warm note to Thomas Donaldson about Whitman, stating, "I am sorry to hear of the physical disabilities of the man who tenderly nursed the wounded Union soldiers and as tenderly sung the dirge of their great captain" (qtd. in Allen 523).

Bibliography

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

Pollard, John A. John Greenleaf Whittier, Friend of Man. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949.


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