Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)
Author:
Roberson, Susan L.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Richard Watson Gilder was the managing editor and then editor of the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. Founded in 1870 as Scribner's Monthly, it was renamed the Century with a change in management in 1881. The Century was one of the nation's most esteemed periodicals, and as its editor Gilder was one of the most influential men in American letters. Indeed, the 1880s were called by his biographer, Herbert Smith, "the Gilder Age" (13).

Gilder began his career in journalism as a reporter for the Newark Advertiser (1868), and by 1870 he was associate editor at Scribner's Monthly and writing an opinion column, "The Old Cabinet," for the magazine. As editor of the Century, Gilder was instrumental in publishing works by some of America's best writers, among them Henry James, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Walt Whitman. He also initiated a series on "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War," for which he asked Whitman to write a piece about his work as a volunteer nurse for the Union armies. "Army Hospitals and Cases" was published by Century four years later; meanwhile two short works, "Father Taylor and Oratory" and "Twilight," appeared in 1887. From 1887 until 1891, Whitman's work appeared once a year in Century, making Gilder the editor most receptive to Whitman.

Gilder first met Whitman in 1877 at a reception hosted by J.H. Johnston and befriended the poet when he had few social connections in New York City. From that time on, Gilder supported Whitman, publishing his work and participating in fund-raising benefits. Gilder started plans, seconded by John Burroughs, in 1878 for Whitman's first Lincoln lecture. With Edmund Clarence Stedman, Gilder insisted on including Whitman in a series on American poets despite the objections of Scribner's editor, Josiah Holland. Gilder admired Whitman's poetry and praised its "magnificent form" and spirit (qtd. in Smith 51).

Gilder was himself a prolific and popular poet, skilled at rhyme and meter and given to writing commemorative pieces. Obsessed with form, his work, as well as his attitude, remained largely genteel and conservative.

Bibliography

Gilder, Richard Watson. Poems of Richard Watson Gilder. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1908.

John, Arthur. The Best Years of the Century: Richard Watson Gilder, Scribner's Monthly, and the Century Magazine, 1870–1909. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1981.

Mott, Frank Luther. A History of American Magazines, 1865–1885. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1938.

Smith, Herbert F. Richard Watson Gilder. New York: Twayne, 1970.


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