Selected Criticism

Westminster Review, The
Barcus, James E., Jr.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Among the powerful arbiters of taste in nineteenth-century England were periodicals like the Edinburgh Review, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, and the Westminster Review, a liberal Benthamite journal that the critics and editors of the Democratic Review often praised. These popular British magazines were often pirated in American editions. Whitman apparently received these editions for reviews while he was still in newspaper work, especially in 1848 and 1849 and again in 1857–1859, when he was editing the Brooklyn Daily Times. A survey of his critical summaries of these periodicals in his editorial pages reveals that ideas which some have thought he picked up from American sources could have come from these British reviews.

Considering Whitman's enthusiasm for the Westminster Review during the 1850s, the attack on his poems in the October 1860 issue must have hurt the poet deeply and may have sparked his decision again to write anonymous reviews of his work. A defense of Leaves of Grass in the Brooklyn City News on 10 October was almost certainly written by Whitman.

However, by 1871 the Westminster Review redeemed itself when it published in the July number an article entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," written by Edward Dowden, Professor of English at Trinity College in Dublin. After receiving rejections from Macmillan's and a last-minute decision not to publish from the Contemporary Review, Dowden's essay finally appeared, pronouncing Whitman to be "the first & only representative in art of American Democracy" (qtd. in Whitman 914, n49). This delayed approbation provided Whitman with some compensation for the attack a decade earlier.


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

Whitman, Walt. Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts. Ed. Edward F. Grier. Vol. 2. New York: New York UP, 1984.


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