Commentary

Contemporary Reviews

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman

Creator: George Searle Phillips [unsigned in original]

Date: June 2, 1860

Publication information: The New-York Illustrated News 2 (2 June 1860): 60.

Source: The original electronic text for this file was prepared for Walt Whitman, The Contemporary Reviews, ed. Kenneth M. Price (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), and the transcription was completed by consulting a representation of the original (e.g., photocopy, microfilm copy). Following publication of that volume, Price received an updated transcription file from Cambridge University Press, and the Whitman Archive has used the final file from the publisher as the basis for the electronic text presented here.

Whitman Archive ID: anc.00038

Contributors to digital file: Natalie O'Neal, Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, and Todd Stabley


WALT WHITMAN.

———

In pursuance of our plan to give the patrons of the ILLUSTRATED NEWS illustrated information in regard to all the new sensations of the day, whether in politics, art or literature, we present here a finely-executed portrait of WALT WHITMAN, the new American poet, the recent publication of a superb edition of whose poems "Leaves of Grass" is bringing him permanently before the American people as one of the most remarkable men of this day and generation.

WALT WHITMAN was born in Brooklyn, Long Island, May 31, 1818, and is yet a resident of the "City of Churches." He is a printer by trade, as many other men distinguished in the annals of this country have been; and, by the force of his own native genius, has risen from the case to become one of the great lights and leaders of literature—a poet whose broad and vigorous power and uncommon felicity of illustration is acknowledged wherever the English language is spoken. His first appearance before the public was in 1855, when he issued a small and unprepossessing edition of his "Leaves of Grass," previous to which, however, he had contributed some poems to the press, which attracted attention by their power and originality. On sending a copy of the first edition of his poems to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is acknowledged to be the foremost man in modern literature, he received the following letter in reply:

CONCORD, Mass., July 21, 1855.

DEAR SIR:—I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of "Leaves of Grass." I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile and stingy nature, as if too much handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our western wits fat and mean.

I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire.

I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging.

I did not know, until I last night saw the book advertised in a newspaper, that I could trust the name as real and available for a post-office. I wish to see my benefactor, and have felt much like striking my tasks and visiting New York to pay you my respects.

R. W. EMERSON.

WALT WHITMAN.

This letter of the highest praise, from one of the greatest minds in the world, called the attention of many literary people to these new poems, and they were largely bought up. In 1856 he issued another and somewhat enlarged edition, which were speedily disposed of. An interim of four years has elapsed, and having had ample leisure in the meantime for composition of new pieces, he now comes before the public with a superb edition of his work, containing about twice as much matter as the first edition, the success of which has already been great, and must be enormous.

There is a great career in store for Walt Whitman, and we shall watch his future with interest. An interesting review of his work was given in the last number of the ILLUSTRATED NEWS.

The "Leaves of Grass" is published by Thayer & Eldridge, of Boston, and the book—take it altogether—is, perhaps, the most magnificent specimen of typography ever issued by the American Press.


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