Selected Criticism

Garland, Hamlin (1860–1940)
Dean, Thomas K.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Best known for his realistic prose portrayals of the hardships of midwestern farm life, Hamlin Garland also is an important figure in the theory of American realism. His best-known works include Main-Travelled Roads (1891), Crumbling Idols (1894), Rose of Dutcher's Coolly (1895), and Boy Life on the Prairie (1899).

Garland's thoughts on the relationships between place, culture, democracy, and literature, dubbed "veritism" and summarized in his essay collection entitled Crumbling Idols, show signs of Whitman's influence. While developing his beliefs and talents, Garland championed Whitman in lectures and essays and planned to write a survey of American literature depicting Whitman as the fountainhead of future American writing. Garland wrote to Whitman in 1886, beginning a regular correspondence that led to a visit to Mickle Street in the autumn of 1888 and a tribute at the poet's seventieth birthday commemoration in 1889.

Whitman expressed interest in Garland's first letter, remarking to Horace Traubel upon the young writer's political vision and enthusiasm, but mostly his status as a Midwesterner. Both Whitman and Garland believed that a "true" American literary voice, free of eastern affectation, would emerge from the western states. Garland's enthusiasm for Whitman centered on the poet's patriotism, sympathy with working men and women, and faith in the destiny of the States. Although the two disagreed slightly on the frankness of late-century American literature, they agreed on the importance of the common person in literature. Garland was optimistic about the culture's possibilities, as was Whitman, though he saw himself more as a reporter than a prophet like Whitman.

In later years, Garland expressed some weariness with Whitman's optimistic and bombastic posture, but his enthusiasm for Whitman's ideas characterized much of his early work and led him to dub Whitman "the genius of democracy" (qtd. in Price 7).


Becknell, Thomas. "Hamlin Garland's Response to Whitman." The Old Northwest 7 (1981): 217–235.

Garland, Hamlin. Hamlin Garland's Diaries. Ed. Donald Pizer. San Marino, Calif.: The Huntington Library, 1968.

———. "'Let the Sunshine In.'" The Rotarian 55 (1939): 8–11.

Price, Kenneth M. "Hamlin Garland's 'The Evolution of American Thought': A Missing Link in the History of Whitman Criticism." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 3.2 (1985): 1–20.

Price, Kenneth M., and Robert C. Leitz III. "The Uncollected Letters of Hamlin Garland to Walt Whitman." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 5.3 (1988): 1–13.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. 1908. Vol. 2. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961.


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