Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Stoddard, Charles Warren (1843–1909)
Author:
Andriano, Joseph
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

A minor literary figure in his own day, and until recently all but forgotten, Stoddard was a journalist, poetaster, and essayist who exchanged a few letters with Walt Whitman (from 1867 to 1870). Stoddard is also known for his brief stint as Mark Twain's secretary and companion in London in 1873. Whitman read Stoddard's charming sketches about Hawaiian natives in The Overland Monthly (1869–1870) that would be collected as South Sea Idylls (1873), his most popular book. It may be compared favorably with Herman Melville's Typee (1846) and the early chapters of Moby-Dick (1851) in its provocative—and humorous—tribute to the sensuous lifestyle of "barbarism." Like Melville, Stoddard focused on homoerotic affection between the Christian and the barbarian.

It is not surprising, then, that he would react so enthusiastically to Whitman's "Calamus" poems. His letter of 2 April 1870 opens, "In the name of CALAMUS listen to me!" (Traubel 444) and proceeds to sing the joys of barbarism as opposed to the hypocrisy and "frigid manners of the Christians" (445). Whitman's response was guardedly sympathetic: he "warmly approve[d]" of Stoddard's "adhesive nature," but felt compelled to remind him of the virtues of "American practical life" (Whitman 97).

Although Stoddard was vastly inferior to Whitman as a poet, they were kindred spirits in their need for discreet homoerotic attachments, though Whitman preferred his in civilized society. And though Whitman in the two surviving letters to Stoddard sincerely hoped they would some day meet, they apparently never did.

Bibliography

Austen, Roger. Genteel Pagan: The Double Life of Charles Warren Stoddard. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1991.

Katz, Jonathan, ed. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. New York: Crowell, 1976.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 3. 1914. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. Vol. 2. New York: New York UP, 1961.


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