Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
New York Tribune
Author:
Belasco Smith, Susan
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Established by Horace Greeley on 10 April 1841, the New York Tribune was designed to be an inexpensive daily newspaper with a strong Whig orientation. Reform-oriented and mindful of his mission to publish a family newspaper, Greeley was determined to make the Tribune a successful venture. The paper had an initial circulation of fifty-five hundred and rose to forty-five thousand just before the Civil War. Aggressive in reporting the news of the day and in supporting causes such as abolition, the elimination of capital punishment, and temperance, Greeley was also interested in printing and promoting contemporary literature. He printed poems and short fiction, and he hired a number of talented New England intellectuals to write reviews and articles, including Charles A. Dana, Bayard Taylor, George Ripley, and Margaret Fuller, who after two years in New York (1844–1846) became the first woman foreign correspondent for an American newspaper and reported the revolutions of 1848 from the scene in Europe to the readers of the Tribune.

Greeley published three of Whitman's poems in the Tribune in 1850, all of which were politically inspired. The first, "Blood-Money" (22 March 1850), was undoubtedly written in response to Daniel Webster's speech in Congress on 7 March 1850 in which he voiced his support for the provisions of the Compromise of 1850, including the Fugitive Slave Law. Signed "Paumanok," as were other articles and poems written during this time, "Blood-Money" described the treachery of Judas, clearly analogous to the treachery of Webster. In "The House of Friends" (14 June 1850), later revised for Specimen Days, Whitman sharply criticized northern Democrats for their support of the Compromise of 1850. "Resurgemus" (21 June 1850), the only one of the poems of this period that would appear in Leaves of Grass, was inspired not by American events but by the European revolutions of 1848.

The Tribune also printed the first-known review of Leaves of Grass (by Charles A. Dana, 23 July 1855), but the most significant publication in the Tribune about Whitman was Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous private letter to Whitman of 21 July 1855, which Dana published as managing editor of the Tribune on 10 October 1855. Here Emerson greeted the poet "at the beginning of a great career," the ringing phrase that Whitman used throughout his life to promote the publication and positive reception of his most important work.

Bibliography

Greenspan, Ezra. Walt Whitman and the American Reader. New York: Cambridge UP, 1990.

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

Mott, Frank Luther. American Journalism: A History of the Newspapers in the United States Through 250 Years: 1690–1940. New York: Macmillan, 1941.

Myerson, Joel. Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1993.

Van Deusen, Glyndon G. Horace Greeley: Nineteenth-Century Crusader. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1953.

Whitman, Walt. The Early Poems and the Fiction. Ed. Thomas L. Brasher. New York: New York UP, 1963.


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