Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Tupper, Martin Farquhar (1810–1889)
Author:
Gibson, Brent L.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Martin Farquhar Tupper was an enormously popular poet in Victorian England. Although literary critics disparaged his work, his middle class audience loved him. His most famous and popular work was Proverbial Philosophy (1838), which he published fairly early in his career and which sold over a quarter of a million copies in England alone. American sales were estimated at over one million.

Although he continued to publish profusely, his popularity waned dramatically during his lifetime so that by the end of his life, "Tupperish" was a term of literary derision.

Tupper was born the son of a successful physician in London in 1810. He received an extensive education, attending Oxford and later studying law. His career was stymied, however, by an acute stuttering problem. He turned to writing as a career and became the most popular poet of his day, outselling even Tennyson. Tupper is remembered for popularizing a form of prose-poetry that used no regular rhyme or meter.

When Whitman published Leaves of Grass in 1855, he was widely compared to Tupper by literary critics, including Henry James and Algernon Swinburne. Whitman did read Tupper's poetry, and Whitman's personal copy of Proverbial Philosophy contains one passage, heavily marked and annotated in Whitman's handwriting, that bears a striking resemblance to the style of prose-poetry found in Whitman's catalogues.

Bibliography

Hudson, Derek. Martin Tupper: His Rise and Fall. London: Constable, 1949.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Rubin, Joseph J. "Tupper's Possible Influence on Whitman's Style." American Notes & Queries: A Journal for the Curious 1 (1941): 101–102.


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