Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Hale, Edward Everett (1822–1909)
Author:
Buckingham, Willis J.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

About Whitman's age and, according to William James, like him in his inborn spiritual and personal optimism, Edward Everett Hale wrote one of the first unqualified appreciations of Leaves of Grass. Already prominent in New England as an essayist and Unitarian minister, Hale would become nationally known as a clergyman, magazine editor, and prolific author. His works include fiction, sermons, travel writings, biography, and autobiography, chief among them a hugely popular patriotic short story, "The Man Without a Country" (1863).

Reviewing Leaves of Grass anonymously for the North American Review, Hale admires most its fresh and direct poetic voice. Its author, he writes admiringly, "has a horror of conventional language of any kind" (34). Most early commentators on Leaves find it too original, but for Hale the book's power inheres in its "simplicity," its absolute freedom from traditional, "strained," literary speech (35). Its second accomplishment lies in its vivid description: "sketches of life . . . so real that we wonder how they came on paper" (36). He concludes by observing that the poems' occasional "indelicacies" (36) are no more worrisome than those of Homer. His portrayal of Whitman as founder-poet and "American Homer" would become, as Timothy Morris points out, the dominant critical strategy leading to the poet's eventual canonization.

Bibliography

Adams, John R. Edward Everett Hale. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

Hale, Edward Everett. Rev. of Leaves of Grass, 1855 Edition. Walt Whitman: The Contemporary Reviews. Ed. Kenneth M. Price. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. 34–36.

Holloway, Jean. Edward Everett Hale: A Biography. Austin: U of Texas P, 1956.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. 1902. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1985.

Morris, Timothy. Becoming Canonical in American Poetry. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1995.


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