Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Leland, Charles Godfrey (1824–1903)
Author:
Schroeder, Steven
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Charles Godfrey Leland was born in Philadelphia on 15 August 1824. He graduated from Princeton University in 1845 and spent the next three years in Europe, studying at Heidelberg and Munich. Upon returning to Philadelphia, he studied law and practiced briefly beginning in 1851 before turning to a career as a writer and journalist. During his lifetime, he was best known for his playful and popular "Hans Breitmann" poems which, in their cleverly twisted Anglo-German dialect, displayed Leland's considerable linguistic skills. Those skills were also evident in his translation of Heinrich Heine's Pictures of Travel and Book of Songs (1855) and in his studies of Romany, Etruscan, Shelta, and other equally obscure languages and dialects. Leland's role in founding an industrial arts school in Philadelphia (1881) is evidence of his practical commitment to popular education. His connection with Whitman came first by way of his brother Henry, whom Whitman recalled fondly as an early supporter, and by way of his translation of Heine's Pictures, which Whitman read in 1856. More directly, the connection was established in Whitman's later years when Leland's frequent visits to "Gypsy" communities in Camden included visits with Whitman. It is unlikely that Leland directly influenced Whitman's writing (except, perhaps, by way of the Heine translation), but they were drawn together by common interests in common folk, and their ways of expressing those interests is mutually illuminating.

Bibliography

Leland, Charles Godfrey. Memoirs. 2 vols. London: William Heinemann, 1893.

Pennell, Elizabeth Robins. Charles Godfrey Leland: A Biography. 2 vols. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1906.


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