Contemporary Reviews

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Title: Walt Whitman's New Book

Creator: unknown [unsigned in original]

Date: November 10, 1881

Whitman Archive ID: anc.00242

Source: The Springfield Daily Republican 10 November 1881: 2-3. The electronic text for this file was prepared by Whitman Archive staff and affiliates, who transcribed the text from a representation of the original (e.g., photocopy, digital scan or other electronic reproduction, microfilm copy). The electronic text was originally prepared in Microsoft Word for submission to the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. The transcription was then exported from Microsoft Word as plain text and encoded for publication on the Whitman Archive. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the reviews, see our statement of editorial policy.

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

Walt Whitman's New Book.

From Our Special Correspondent.

BOSTON, Tuesday, November 8.

. . .

It was a great age, men will say hereafter, and a grand country that could produce in one generation three figures for posterity to gaze on like John Brown, Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman,—men unlike each other and unlike all others, such as no other land produced or could produce; embodied heroism, embodied sense and sensibility, embodied imagination. So I view the three men, in the mass of their character,—not considering the loose and trivial details which to many eyes have seemed to be the whole character. It if were possible to see the genius of a great people throwing itself now into this form, now into that,—as the prairie wheat-field takes the quick shape of the passing wind-it would be just to say that we had seen this mystery in the "plain heroic magnitude of mind" with which [John] Brown met death,1—in the broad and patient wisdom of Lincoln,—and in the immense landscape of Whitman's teeming and unharvested imagination. His "Leaves of Grass," as he has now published them at Osgood's in Boston, complete the vast picture of his mind and bring out not merely the confusion of details, which we could only see at first, by the light of poetic flashes—but the broad unity of the piece. It is as if the ancient seamen had found their ocean-god slumbering along his shores, and upon near view could only see a hand here, an eyebrow there, a floating mass of beard elsewhere,—but when they stood back from the strand, or best if they climbed a hill of prospect, the symmetry and articulation of the mighty frame plainly appeared, and they knew by sight their unconscious divinity, Neptune. There is in Whitman's verse, more than in any other modern poet's, what Keats called "that large utterance of the early gods,"-an indistinct grandeur of expression not yet molded to the melody of Shakespeare, Lucretius and Æschylus, but like what Keats again calls "the overwhelming voice of huge Enceladus":—

"Whose ponderous syllables, like sullen waves
In the half-glutted hollows of reef-rock
Came booming thus,"—2
"I announce natural persons to arise,
I announce justice triumphant,
I announce uncompromising liberty and equality,
I announce the justification of candor and the justifi-
cation of pride.
I announce that the identity of those states is a sin-
gle identity only,
I announce the Union more and more compact, indis-
I announce splendors and majesties to make all the
previous polities of the earth insignificant."

It is when he speaks of Lincoln and the civil war that Whitman is least indistinct, and no other of our poets-no nor all of them together-has so well caught and rendered the spirit of that struggle as he has done it. As has been remarked by others no doubt, and more than once, Whitman gives the whole episode of slavery in its relation to the war, in the strange fragment called

Who are you, dusky woman, so ancient, hardly
With your woolly-white and turbaned head, and
bare bony feet?
Why, rising by the roadside here, do you the colors
'Tis while our army lines Carolina's sands and pines,
Forth from thy hovel door thou Ethiopia com'st to
As under doughty Sherman I march toward the sea.
Me, master, years a hundred since from my parents
A little child they caught me as the savage beast
is caught,
Then hither me across the sea, the cruel slaver
No further does she say, but lingering all day,
Her high borne turbaned head she wags, and rolls
her darkling eye,
And courtesies to the regiments, the guidons moving
What is it, fateful woman, so blear, hardly human?
Why wag your head with turban bound, yellow, red
and green?
Are the things so strange and marvelous you see or
have seen?

This new volume of Whitman's contains philosophy, antiquities and history all in one, and is the book of the year in Boston which will bear the most reading and study. The only one to compare with it is another of Osgood's publications, Mr Cooke's "Ralph Waldo Emerson,"-and the two are curiously related to each other. But for Emerson, Whitman might never have written, or written in another form, and what can be further from the Emersonian mode of writing than these unformed and almost lawless numbers, this broad range over the most prosaic elements of life, as well as those regions of ideal beauty in which the genius of Emerson delights?


1. Milton, "Samson Agonistes," 1279. [back]

2. John Keats, Hyperion, Book II. [back]


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