Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Long Island Star
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.

As the Long Island Patriot was the organ of the Jacksonian party in Brooklyn, the Long Island Star was the opposing Whig newspaper. According to Whitman in "Brooklyniana," the Star was first issued in 1808 or 1809 and contained little more than news scraps, jokes, and notices of hired slaves; by the time Whitman was hired as a printer's devil in 1832, it was an ambitious four-page weekly. His employment there served him as trade school, and he left as a journeyman printer at sixteen.

Colonel Alden Spooner, the editor and publisher of the Long Island Star during Whitman's apprenticeship, was a successful businessman, an active civic leader, and a prominent citizen of Brooklyn. He clearly had grand plans for his newspaper as well. Intending it to be much more than simply a political mouthpiece, Spooner gave prominence to science, art, and ideas in the Star, and even provided space for the writings of local authors. Whitman must have been impressed by Spooner's interest in literature, as well as his strong opinions; for example, Spooner's involvement in the temperance movement probably influenced Whitman's decision to abstain from spirits and to write a temperance novel, Franklin Evans (1842).

When Whitman addressed a Democratic rally in City Hall Park in 1841, the Star mocked its former employee for presuming to teach politics to "those big children of Tammany Hall" (qtd. in Kaplan 97), and recommended that he come back and finish his apprenticeship. Four years later, Whitman did in fact reapply for work at the Star, now a daily run by Alden's son and known as the Brooklyn Evening Star. Edwin Spooner strongly disapproved of Whitman's political views, but he also realized that few, if any, Brooklyn journalists could match Whitman's record of editing several metropolitan dailies. Spooner thus engaged Whitman to write about fifty articles over the next five months. These informal editorials centered on Whitman's favorite subjects of the time: education, music, theater, temperance, and manners. In March 1846 Whitman gave up writing opinion pieces for the Star and assumed the editorship of one of its rivals, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Bibliography

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

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

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.

Whitman, Walt. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman. Ed. Emory Holloway. Vol. 2. 1921. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1972.


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