Contemporary Reviews

About this Item

Title: Leaves of Grass

Creator: Mary A. Chilton

Date: June 9, 1860

Whitman Archive ID: anc.01074

Source: The New York Saturday Press 3 (9 June 1860): 3. The electronic text for this file was prepared by Whitman Archive staff, who transcribed the text from a representation of the original (e.g., digital scan or other electronic reproduction, microfilm copy). For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the reviews, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Ashley Lawson, Kyle Barton, Janel Cayer, and Elizabeth Lorang

[For The New York Saturday Press].

Leaves of Grass

I have read carefully, thoughtfully, admiringly, many of the poems of Walt Whitman, at first with astonishment mingled with distrust; but as I re-read and read again and fully grasped his thought, the simple grandeur of his expressed soul, filled mine with awe and reverence for the pages he had the genius to inspire; and I see him now the apostle of purity, the teacher of the most vital, and hence the most Divine truth. In his refusal to recognise such distractions as "decent and indecent" in the human structure—though, in the opinion of another critic, this is "monstrous beyond precedent"—I see the sweetest simplicity and child-like innocence. More than that, I see the purity of the heart maintained spite of all the strong impulses of youth, spite of the hush and whisper and taboo of an age of virtuous prostitution, until the equipoise of mature life, the wisdom gained by experience, informs his mind and dictates his words. In childhood there is no blush of shame at sight of a nude form, and the serene wisdom of maturity covers this innocence with a hale of glory, by recognising the divinity of humanity, and perceiving the unity of all the functions of the human body, and the inevitable tendency to harmonic adjustment and adaptation. As all of nature's forms are evolved from the same God-origin or substance, though there may be differences of rank, there can be no difference in essence; and those functions which have been deemed the most brutal and degrading, will be found to be first in rank when nature's hierarchy shall be established and observed. A true delicacy will neither emblason the individual act of communion abroad (as, sanctioned by custom, those who lay claim to the highest refinement do daily), nor blush to a crimson when the poet of sexual purity vindicates manhood and womanhood from the charge of infamy, degradation, and vice, on account of growth and development after the order of nature. Of course those who assert the doctrine of total depravity must find some part of the person too vile to think of, and will be shocked to hear another express unqualified admiration for the human body and the human soul.

Islip, Long Island, June 5th, 1860


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