Selected Criticism

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

The United States Magazine and Democratic Review (October 1837–December 1851), a monthly magazine designed to promote the liberal politics of the Democratic party, as well as to provide a forum for contemporary American literature, was jointly edited by John L. O'Sullivan and Samuel D. Langree. Often called simply the Democratic Review, it was published under that title from January-December 1852, then as the United States Review (January 1853-January 1856), and later as the United States Democratic Review (February 1856-October 1859). Although there were a variety of owners, publishers, and editors throughout the ears of publication, the magazine retained its liberal political orientation and earned, under the sole editorship of John L. O'Sullivan in the 1840s, a reputation for excellence in literature. Nathaniel Hawthorne published twenty-five essays and tales in the magazine, including "Rappaccini's Daughter" and "The Artist of the Beautiful." Other contributors included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Evert Duyckinck, Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, Horatio Greenough, William Cullen Bryant, James Russell Lowell, William Gilmore Simms, William Ellery Channing, and Henry David Thoreau. Whitman, who was a practicing journalist, largely writing articles and editing newspapers during the decade of the Democratic Review's greatest distinction in literature, was an enthusiastic supporter and saw the magazine under O'Sullivan's leadership as being "of a profounder quality of talent than any since" (Uncollected 2:15).

Eager to find new outlets for his own work, especially in a magazine of such quality, Whitman published ten works in the Review during 1841-1845. Nine of these were undistinguished and melodramatic tales: "Death in the School-Room (a Fact)" (August 1841); "Wild Frank's Return" (November 1841); "Bervance: or, Father and Son" (December 1841); "The Tomb Blossoms" (January 1842); "The Last of the Sacred Army" (March 1842); "The Child-Ghost; a Story of the Last Loyalist" (May 1842); "A Legend of Life and Love" (July 1842); "The Angel of Tears" (September 1842); and "Revenge and Requital: A Tale of a Murderer Escaped" (July-August 1845). Whitman also published "A Dialogue [Against Capital Punishment]" (November 1845), his contribution to the progressive campaign to abolish the death penalty. Later, long after O'Sullivan's years as editor of the Review, Whitman published one of his several self-reviews of Leaves of Grass, "Walt Whitman and His Poems" (September 1855), proclaiming the author of this work as an American bard, "self-reliant, with haughty eyes, assuming to himself all the attributes of his country" (Price 9).


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

Chielens, Edward E., ed. American Literary Magazines: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. New York: Greenwood, 1986.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America. New York: Oxford UP, 1985.

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

Mott, Frank Luther. A History of American Magazines. 5 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1938–1968.

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

Price, Kenneth M., ed. Walt Whitman: The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

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

–. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman. Ed. Emory Holloway. 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, 1921.


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