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Review of Leaves of Grass (1860–61)

'Sensation books,' or what are so called, are now the rage, and each successive production of this kind is more mysterious or murderous than its predecessor. Sir Rohan's Ghost,1 Households of Bouveries, Gold Bricks, and the like, are thrust down our throats whether we will or not. Their authors for the most part belong to the foggy or to the flippant schools of book-makers; for the former Emerson and his 'set' are partly responsible. These scribblers seem to fancy that it is a mark of genius to be mysterious; they hide one grain of thought in a bushel of chaff and have the assurance to ask us to look for it. Oh! for the days and works of Goldsmith, Addison and Irving, who drew from pure wells of English undefiled, and charmed us by their simplicity. The other day we noticed a commendatory notice (save the mark!) of Walt Whitman's Poems, by Emerson, and we looked over the volume of one who has been declared about 'to inaugurate a new era in American poetry.' Why, these 'poems' (prose run crazy) are the veriest trash ever written, and vulgar and disgusting to the last degree. There never was more unblushing obscenity presented to the public eye than is to be found in these prurient pages and how any respectable House could publish the volume is beyond my powers to comprehend. But enough of the 'nasty' school.

And now we have another 'sensation' book—an anti-slavery affair—one of the brood spawned by 'Uncle Tom.' It is called 'Harrington'; but it ought to be styled, 'A Glorification of Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, C. Burleigh and other gentlemen of their peculiar way of thinking.' Burleigh is said to look like the portraits of Jesus Christ. Parker resembles Socrates, Phillips, Cicero; and Garrison, Jove himself. And then the female characters are marvels of beauty and virtue. The house of Muriel, the heroine, is a perfect paradise of upholstery. But the hero, Harrington, is one of those

faultless monsters, whom the world ne'er saw,

whose 'mission' it is to comfort the sable population of 'Nigger Hill.' It is absolutely sickening to read the manworship to be found in this volume, the only powerful writing in which is the description of Anthony's escape. As a work of art it will be as ephemeral as most books of its class.


1. Sir Rohan's Ghost: A Romance (1860) was written by Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford. [back]

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