Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Roe, Charles A. (b. 1829)
Author:
Stifel, Timothy
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Born during February of 1829 in Little Bay Side, in the town of Flushing, Long Island, Charles A. Roe attended the classes taught by Walt Whitman in the Little Bay Side School during the late 1830s. Horace Traubel interviewed Roe in 1894, and the information from this interview provides a unique view of Whitman as teacher.

Roe describes Whitman as a man who "strangely attracted our respect and affection" (qtd. in Traubel 116). Whitman conducted class orally, rather than from books, and his lessons in reading, writing, arithmetic, and grammar were punctuated with stories. Although Roe characterizes his former teacher as "a boy among boys, always free, always easy, never stiff" (qtd. in Traubel 110), he also mentions that Whitman kept his classroom well disciplined—he never used corporal punishment, but he occasionally used the dunce cap. Roe also offers details of Whitman's life outside the classroom. Whitman boarded with a widow who was concerned with what she considered his atheism, but Whitman was liked and respected by the parents of his students. Roe remembers him as a healthy young man who always ate heartily, never drank alcohol, and apparently shunned the company of women. Whitman taught in the school at Little Bay Side only one year, so the precise memories Roe recalled over fifty years later attest to Whitman's effectiveness in the classroom.

Bibliography

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

Traubel, Horace L. "Walt Whitman, Schoolmaster: Notes of a Conversation with Charles A. Roe, 1894." Whitman in His Own Time. Ed. Joel Myerson. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1991. 109–116.


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