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Review of Leaves of Grass (1860–61)

[From the Albion, May 1860.]

Messrs. Thayer & Eldridge have published a third edition of Leaves of Grass, in which we recommend our reader endeavor to find the following passages:


I happify myself. I am considerable of a man. I am some. You  
 also are some. We all are considerable, all  
 are some.
Put all of you and all of me together, and agitate  
 our particles by rubbing us all up into  
 eternal smash, and we should still be some.
No more than some, but no less. Particularly some, some particularly, some in  
 general, generally some, but always some  
 without mitigation. Distinctly, some.
O ensemble! O quelque-chose!


Some punkins, perhaps. But perhaps squash, long-necked squash, crook-  
 ed-necked squash, cowcumber, beets, pars- 
 nip, carrot, turnip, white turnip, yellow tur- 
 nip, or any sort of sass, long sass, or short  
Or potatoes. Men, Irish potatoes; women,  
 sweet potatoes.


Yes, Women. I luxuriate in Women. They look at me, and my eyes start out of my  
 head; they speak to me, and I yell with de- 
 light; they touch me, and the flesh crawls  
 off my bones.
Women lay in wait for me, they do. Yes, Sir. They rush upon me, seven women laying hold of  
 one man; and the divine efflux that thrilled  
 all living things before the nuptials of the  
 saurious overflows, surrounds, and inter- 
 penetrates their souls, and they say, Walt,  
 why don't you come and see us? You  
 know we'd be happy to have you.
O mes sœurs! . . . . . . . . . . . .


Of beauty. Of excellence, of purity, of honesty, of truth. Of the beauty of flat-nosed, pock-marked, pied  
 Congo niggers!
Of the purity of nastiness, the sweetness of fecu- 
 lence, the fragrance of pig-sties, and the in- 
 effable sweet perfume of Cow Bay in the  
Of the chastity of courtesans, the honesty and  
 general incorruptibility of aldermen, of
common-councilmen, of sub-treasurers, of postmasters, of post office clerks, of Mem- 
 bers of the House of Representatives, and  
 of Government officials generally, and lobby  
 members in particular.
Of the truth of theatrical advertisements, of a  
 prima donna's speech on her benefit night,  
 of your salutation when you say 'I am  
 happy to see you, sir,' of the Cherry Pic- 
 toral Certificates, of the Olive Tar corre- 
 spondence, of the recorded virtues of Schei- 
 dam Schnapps.


I glorify schnapps. I celebrate gin. In beer I revel and wallow. I shall liquor. Ein lager! I swear there is no nectar like lager. I swim in  
 it, I float upon it, it heaves me up to heaven,  
 it bears me beyond the stars, I tread upon  
 the air, I sail upon the ether, I spread my-  
 self abroad, I stand self-poised in illimit- 
 able space, I look down, I see you, I am no  
 better than you, you also shall mount with  
Zwei lager! Encore! . . . . . . . . . . . .


Once I knew a man. Not that man. But another man. A man I once knew. He was great, 'was glorious,  
 nev'r washed his hair, n'r combed his face,  
 —'mean combed face n'r washed hair; had  
 big han's—dirty—'n big feet-dirty, —red 'n  
 freckled, 'cause did n't wear hat, n'r coat,  
 n'r shoes, but went bear headed 'n bare foot- 
 ed, 'n shirt 'n pants like free 'n in-in-  
 in-'pen't cita'n these 'nited States.
'Swear he was glorious. . . . . . . . . . . . .


O my soul! O your soul, which is no better than my soul,  
 and no worse, but just the same!
O soul in general! Loafe! Proceed through  
 space with a hole in your trousers!
O pendant shirt-flap! O dingy, unwashed, flut- 
 tering linen!
O tattered flag of freedom! not national free- 
 dom, nor any of that sort of infernal non- 
 sense, but individual freedom, freedom to  
 do just as you d—n please!


By golly, there is nothing in this world so unut- 
 terably magnificent as the inexplicable com- 
 prehensibility of inexplicableness.


Of mud.


O triangles, O hypotheneuses, O centres, circum- 
 ferences, diameters, radiuses, arcs, sines,  
 cosines, tangents, parallelograms and paral- 
O myself! O yourself. O my eye! . . . . . . . . . . . .


These things are not in Webster's Dictionary—  
 Unabridged, Pictorial.
Nor yet in Worcester's. Wait and get the best. Neither in the New York Directory; for that is  
 full of blunders. I know it, although it has  
 not yet been printed.
You also know it; for has not the name collec- 
 tor vexed your wife's soul, and your pale  
 daughter's? and the plump-armed girls in  
 the kitchen?
And what came of his vexing but spelling of  
 your name wrong, and putting you in East  
 Thirteenth, when you lived in West Thirty  
 First Street!


These things have come up out of the ages. Out of the ground that you crush with your  
Out of the muck that you have shoveled away  
 into the compost.
Out of the offal that the slow, lumbering cart,  
 blood-dabbled and grease dropping, bears  
 away from the slaughter-house, a white-  
 armed boy sitting on top of it, shouting Hi!  
 and flogging the horse on the raw with the  
That muck has been many philosophers; that  
 offal was once gods and mages.
And I swear that I don't see why a man in gold  
 spectacles and a white cravat stuck up in a  
 library, stuck up in a pulpit, stuck up in a  
 professor's chair, stuck up in a Governor's  
 chair, or in the President's chair, should be  
 of any more account than a possum or a  
Libertad, and the divine average!


I tell you the truth. Salut! I am not to be bluff'd off. No, Sir. I am large, hairy, obscene, sprawling, big in the  
 shoulders, narrow in the flank, strong in the  
 knees, and of an inquiring and communica- 
 tive disposition.
Also instructive in my propensities, given to con- 
 templation, and able to lift anything that is  
 not too heavy.
Listen to me, and I will do you good. Loafe with me, and I will do you better. And if any man dares to make fun of me, I shall  
 be after him with a particularly sharp stick.

The above was written, and almost all in type, before we were aware that any similar notice had been taken of the book to which it refers; for until within a day or two, our knowledge of Walt Whitman was limited to what we had heard in casual conversation. But our attention is just now called to a little pamphlet-collection of notices of the previous editions of 'Leaves of Grass,' and by that we find that we have been forestalled in two instances. Had we known this we should have written otherwise; but as it is, we let our squib go. We admit that although there is no verse in Mr. Whitman's book, there is some poetry—a little—of an exquisite and peculiar cast, which flecks the surface of a very copious and strong expression of sympathy with and close observation of external nature. But the latter is not necessarily poetry, even when written by a poet of transcendant powers. Witness the description of the horse in Shakspeare's 'Venus and Adonis,' which is an enumeration of points better suited to Tattersall's books1 than to a work of fancy and imagination. As to these 'Leaves of Grass,' nine-tenths of them are covered with words that have no more meaning, coherency, or perceptible purpose than the columns in a spellingbook; while the indecency—an indecency not born of prurience, but of the absolute refusal to recognize such a distinction as decent and indecent—is monstrous beyond precedent, and were it not before our eyes, beyond belief. Yet for the one-tenth that we have excepted we shall keep the book, and read it, not without a strange interest in the man who could draw such a slender thread of truth and purity through such a confused mass of folly, feculence, and falsehood.

Messrs. Thayer & Eldridge have printed the book in very handsome style.


1. [From the Albion, May 1860.] [back]

2. Tattersalls is "Europe's Largest Bloodstock Auctioneers and the world's oldest, dating back to 1766." See [back]

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