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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 5 January 1849

Among the New York editors, your and my old friend M. M. Noah,1 the Nestor2 of the band, leads the list—in point of age and experience, at any rate. What a successful editor he has been! Good-hearted, always willing to do a kindness, liberal handed, not too nice in his political morality, true to his friends, and not very spiteful toward his foes, desirous to live well, and almost equally desirous that others also should live well—such are some of the characteristics of Major Noah. He has seen New York grow up, as it were; at any rate he has seen the growth of what we possess in the way of literature and classic refinement. For some forty years he has trod the stage—and life, that has proved a tragedy to so many, has been to him an even drama. Long may it be ere the curtain drops upon his last act!

Major Noah still retains his portliness of form, activity of limb, and benevolence of feature. He mixes much with the world, and is acceptable every where. You may see him of an evening, for a stray hour, on a back bench in the first tier of the Olympic—or perhaps the Broadway. He has excellent taste as a critic of the drama, and has written some by no means bad pieces himself. When he condescends to talk in the gossiping vein, of past times, then you get a treat indeed. We know few persons who are more entertaining in conversation than Major Noah. He is always lively, with French vivacity and grace in his style—and always brings up something interesting. He is now a proprietor and editor of the "Sunday Times,"3 and it is said, likes a little dab in the editorial columns of some other prints, too. Few men have more personal friends, and few men have done as much good, according to their means.

Col. James Watson Webb,4 may perhaps, without impropriety, stand next upon our list. His journal undoubtedly exercises a good deal of influence—at least it does, if those appalling large advertising sheets ever exercise any influence. The style of Col. Webb's writing is forcible, almost dictatorial, with many dashes of self opinion, scorn, and impatience of opposing argument. Col. W. is considered as the head, among editors, of "the other side" of the whigs, than Horace Greeley.5 He lives in style, and always among the "upper ten." He used to have town houses and country houses; but alas! such things seem not intended for editors; and so they have failed him. Col. Webb, in person, is full and healthy looking; he limps a little, from the effects of a wound in a well-known rencontre.

Since the death of Col. Stone,6 Mr. John Inman7 has been principal editor of the Commercial Advertiser. By most persons it is considered a still better paper under his management than formerly. Col. Stone was remarkably conservative; he inherited the notions of the old federalists, or rather shared them, and was, in politics, somewhat of a thorn in the whig side, for he never deigned to "soft soap" the people. Mr. Inman is more genial in ideas and sentiments. He possesses considerable literary talent, and was for some time the principal editor of the "Columbian Magazine." His writings, however, are not deep; their principal merits are a flowing style, and an opportune choice of subject. Mr. Inman labors under an infirm state of health consequent upon too continued application.

Mr. Beach,8 you know, has retired from the "Sun," and left it to his boys. That was a lucky "spec" of his, in getting hold of the little ricketty, dingy concern that few expected to live six months! Perhaps the records of newspaper experience furnish no instance of a more rapidly growing and widely flourishing newspaper. Mr. Beach had his good and his indifferent qualities. I cannot say I think he possessed bad ones, decidedly. One of these days I intend to give you a description of the "Sun" establishment.

Should you like, these sketches of New York editors will be continued from time to time.



  • 1. Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785–1851) was a playwright and journalist born in Pennsylvania. After moving to New York, Noah founded and edited The Evening Star, The Sunday Times, and The New York Enquirer, among other newspapers. Noah was a proponent of slavery, served as both a sheriff and diplomat, and was an important Jewish lay leader in New York. [back]
  • 2. In Greek mythology, Nestor was a king of Pylos. He was a character in Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey. [back]
  • 3. Whitman scholar Thomas Ollive Mabbot has speculated that Whitman may have been editing the New York Sunday Times when it merged with Noah's Weekly Messenger in 1843 (Mabbott, "Walt Whitman Edits the Sunday Times July, 1842–June, 1843," American Literature 39.1 [March 1967], 99–102). Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785–1851) and T. W. Meighan edited the new work, titled, the New York Sunday Times & Noah's Weekly Messenger. The paper published the first two chapters of "The Fireman's Dream: With the Story of His Strange Companion, A Tale of Fantasie," (1844) a work Whitman may have intended as a novella. Other pieces by Whitman that were published in the paper include the article "A Visit to Greenwood Cemetery," (1844) and "Tale of a Shirt: A Very Pathetic Ballad" (1844) (Susan Belasco, New York Sunday Times & Noah's Weekly Messenger). [back]
  • 4. James Watson Webb (1802–1884) served in the army and then resigned to become the proprietor and editor of the New York Morning Courier. Two years later, in 1829, he purchased the New York Enquirer from M. M. Noah (1785–1851) and created the paper known as the Courier and Enquirer. At that time, James Gordon Bennett, Sr. (1795–1872)—who would later found The New York Herald—was a reporter for Noah's paper. Webb retained Bennett in that capacity for the Courier and Enquirer. Webb was well connected both to public figures and to the political events of his day, and he later accepted an appointment as Minister to Brazil ("Died, Aged 82 Years. The Late Col. James Watson Webb," Placer Herald, August 9, 1884, 6). [back]
  • 5. Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune was one of the leading dailies of its era. The Weekly Tribune enjoyed widespread distribution, with a circulation of 200,000 in 1860. Greeley later ran against Ulysses S. Grant as the Liberal Republican Party's candidate for the presidency in 1872. [back]
  • 6. William Leete Stone (1792–1844) was an author, journalist, and historian. He became the editor and proprietor of the Commercial Advertiser—a Whig publication—in 1821, a position he held until his death. [back]
  • 7. John Inman, who had been serving as an associate editor on the Commercial Advertiser took over the paper upon the death of the previous editor and proprietor, William Leete Stone (1792–1844). Inman had also edited the New York Mirror and contributed to the Knickerbocker (Wendy Katz, Humbug! The Politics of Art Criticism in New York City's Penny Press [New York: Fordham University Press, 2020], 37). At the time he assumed responsibility for the Commercial Advertiser, Inman was editing and contributing to the The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine (Frank Luther Mott, "The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine," in A History of American Magazines: 1741–1850, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1930), 1: 743–744). Inman's magazine published five of Whitman's short stories in 1844. [back]
  • 8. Moses Yale Beach (1800–1868) was an early owner of the New York Sun. He was an inventor, creating a rag-cutting machine for paper mills, an entrepreneur, and is credited with beginning print syndication and starting the Associated Press. [back]
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