Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
St. Louis, Missouri
Author:
McWilliams, Jim
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Pierre Laclede founded St. Louis in 1764 to be a focal point for French trade on the Mississippi River. On 10 March 1810 the United States military took command of the post under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase, but the city did not become prominent until the 1850s, when it developed into an important railway center. By late 1879—when Walt Whitman made his only extended visit—St. Louis's population was more than three hundred thousand, making it the fourth largest city in the United States.

Whitman first toured St. Louis on 3 June 1848 when his brother Jeff Whitman and he stopped for a few hours as they returned east after working for the New Orleans Crescent. Jeff Whitman, who studied to become a civil engineer specializing in waterworks, later moved to St. Louis in 1867 to supervise its water department.

On 12 September 1879 Walt Whitman returned to St. Louis for another one-day visit as part of a group traveling to Kansas to celebrate the Old Settlers' Quarter Centennial celebration. On his return trip later in the month, Whitman again stopped in St. Louis. He subsequently decided to extend his visit and lived with his brother's family from 27 September to 5 January 1880. Although he complained that illness delayed his departure from St. Louis, Whitman thoroughly enjoyed his stay. He spent his afternoons either at Eads Bridge, which he greatly admired for its size, or in the Mercantile Library. Occasionally, he visited neighborhood kindergartens to entertain the children with his stories.

Bibliography

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

Eitner, Walter H. Walt Whitman's Western Jaunt. Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1981.

McWilliams, Jim. "An Unknown 1879 Profile of Whitman." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 11 (1994): 141–143.

Whitman, Thomas Jefferson. Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman. Ed. Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 1984.


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