Commentary

Contemporary Reviews

About this Item

Title: New Publications

Creator: unknown [unsigned in original]

Date: November 19, 1881

Publication information: New-York Tribune 41 (19 November 1881): 4.

Source: The electronic text for this file was prepared by Whitman Archive staff, who transcribed the text from a representation of the original (e.g., digital scan or other electronic reproduction, microfilm copy).

Whitman Archive ID: anc.02002

Contributors to digital file: Ashley Lawson, Kyle Barton, Janel Cayer, Ken Price, and Elizabeth Lorang


New Publications

———

WALT WHITMAN.

LEAVES OF GRASS. 12mos. pp. 382. James H. Osgood & Co.

After the dilettante indelicacies of William H. Malleck and Oscar Wilde, we are presented with the slop-bucket of Walt Whitman. The celebrity of this phenomenal poet bears a curious disproportion to the circulation of his writings. Until now, it cannot be said that his verses have ever been published at all. They have been printed irregularly and read behind the door. They have been vaunted extravagantly by a band of extravagant disciples; and the possessors of the books have kept them locked up from the family. Some have valued them for the "barbaric yawp," which seems to them the note of a new, vigorous, democratic, American school of literature; some for the fragments of real poetry floating in the turbid mass; some for the nastiness and animal insensibility to shame which entitle a great many of the poems to a dubious reputation as curiosities. Now that they are thrust into our faces at the book stalls there must be a reexamination of the myth of the Good Gray Poet. It seems to me that there is no need at this late day to consider Mr. Whitman's claims to the immortality of genius. That he is a poet most of us frankly admit. His merits have been set forth many times, and at great length, and if the world has erred materially in its judgment of them the error has been a lazy and unquestioning acquiescence in some of the extreme demands of his vociferous partisans. The chief question raised by this publication is whether anybody—even a poet—ought to take off his trousers in the market place. Of late years we believe that Mr. Whitman has not chosen to be so shocking as he was when he had his notoriety to make, and many of his admirers—the rational ones—hoped that the "Leaves of Grass" would be weeded out before he set them out again. But this has not been done; and indeed Mr. Whitman could hardly do it without falsifying the first principle of his philosophy, which is a belief in his own perfection, and the second principle, which is a belief in the preciousness of filth. "Divine am I," he cries. "Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touched from. The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer. This head more than churches, Bibles and all the creeds." He knows that he is "august." He does not care for anybody's opinion. He is

Walt Whitman, a kosmos of Manhattan the son,
Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding.
No sentimentalist, no slander above men and women or apart from them.
No more modest than immodest.

There is nothing in the universe better than Walt Whitman. That is the burden of the "Song of Myself" which fills fifty pages of the present volume:

I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious.

Nothing is obscene or indecent to him. It is his mission to shout the forbidden voices, to tear the veil off everything, to clarify and transfigure all that is dirty and vile, to proclaim that garbage is just as good as nectar if you are only lusty enough to think so. His immodesty is free from glamour of every sort. Neither amatory sentiment nor susceptibility to physical beauty appears to have anything to do with it. It is entirely bestial; and in this respect we know of nothing in literature which can be compared with it. Walt Whitman, despising what he calls conventionalism, and vaunting the athletic democracy, asks to be accepted as the master of a new poetical school, fresh, free, stalwart, "immense in passion, pulse and power," the embodiment of the spirit of vigorous America. But the gross materialism of his verses represents art in its last degradation rather than its rude infancy.


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