Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Canby, Henry Seidel (1878–1961)
Author:
Reagan, Katherine
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

One of Whitman's many biographers, Henry Seidel Canby is most often remembered as a literary journalist and educator. Born in Wilmington, Delaware, on 5 April 1878 to Edward Tatnall Canby, a banker, and Ella Augusta Seidel, he earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1905. During the course of his more than fifty-year career as an editor and writer, Canby looked for ways to make scholarly writings on literary topics accessible to a nonscholarly audience. In 1920, after several years on the Yale faculty, he became editor of the Literary Review, later moving on to found the Saturday Review of Literature in 1924. In 1926 he advanced his campaign to make good books available to the general public when he became the first chairman of the board of judges of the Book-of-the-Month Club, a position he held until 1958. Canby began writing on a variety of literary topics while still at Yale. By the time he published Walt Whitman: An American (1943), he had already edited selections of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Robert Louis Stevenson and written Thoreau: A Biography (1939) and numerous other books and articles on American literature and the writing of English. According to his memoirs, he developed an interest in Whitman after he read Whitman's poems "intensively" in the 1920s (American Memoir 406). Canby's biography of Whitman relies heavily on its predecessors and does not break new scholarly ground. It did, however, accomplish the author's goal of bringing Walt Whitman to the attention of a wider audience.

Bibliography

Canby, Henry Seidel. American Memoir. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947.

———. Walt Whitman: An American. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943.


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