Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Long Island Democrat
Author:
Karbiener, Karen
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

"Yes: I would write a book!" (qtd. in Reynolds 64) Whitman's exclamation in the 29 September 1840 edition of the Long Island Democrat was perhaps the first sign of the budding Leaves of Grass. The Democrat, a weekly newspaper founded by James J. Brenton in 1835, provided Whitman with one of the earliest opportunities to see his poetry in print; not only had Brenton copied a poem from Whitman's own Long Islander in 1838, but he published ten more of his poems, plus six of Whitman's "Sun Down Papers–From the Desk of a Schoolmaster," after Whitman began working for him in August 1839.

After selling the Long Islander, Whitman prevailed upon the Democrat's editor to take him on as helper. Brenton, already an admirer of Whitman's journalistic skills, easily conceded; Whitman then settled in Jamaica, to work for Brenton and live in his home. The room and board he received probably constituted a large portion of the compensation for writing and setting type. Whether because of Whitman's dissatisfaction concerning his wages, or Mrs. Brenton's unfavorable opinion of the "inordinately indolent" (qtd. in Holloway xxxiii n) young man, Whitman returned to schoolteaching in December. Nevertheless, the Democrat continued to publish his writings, and Brenton congratulated Whitman through the Democrat whenever Whitman obtained a new editorial position.

Brenton fanned Whitman's political interests, and his influence probably secured Whitman's appointment as an electioneer for the Van Buren campaign. The Democrat's denouncement of a September 1840 Whig rally was supported by its former employee, who wrote spirited letters to the Democrat denouncing the Whig advocate, Charles King.

Bibliography

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

Holloway, Emory. Introduction. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman. Vol. 1. Ed. Holloway. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, 1921. xxiii–xcii.

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

Rubin, Joseph Jay. The Historic Whitman. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1973.

White, William. Walt Whitman's Journalism: A Bibliography. Detroit: Wayne State UP 1969.


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