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About Life Illustrated

The phrenologists Orson Squire Fowler (1809–1887), Lorenzo Niles Fowler (1811–1896), and Samuel R. Wells (1820–1875) published Life Illustrated: A Journal of Entertainment, Improvement, and Progress between 1854 and 1861, after which the newspaper merged with the American Phrenological Journal.

Life Illustrated was one of the earliest periodicals to review Whitman’s first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855), and the review described the poet as "a perfect loafer; yet a thoughtful loafer, an amiable loafer, an able loafer." The journal also printed Emerson’s famous letter to Whitman that began "I greet you at the beginning of a great career . . ." in October 1856, and Whitman published this letter in the second edition of Leaves of Grass (1856). Between November 1855 and August 1856, Whitman published a number of items in Life Illustrated on topics ranging from the opera to working-class housing to the English language as the nation’s "mightiest inheritance." Starting in July 1856, Whitman began the series "New York Dissected," whose medical title implied a precise separation of elements for a better understanding of the whole.

A number of Fowler and Wells' phrenological publications treated the human brain in a similar manner: individual portions are analyzed to determine their particular effects on the whole personality. According to The Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology (1853), "[I]t is a LAW . . . that the structure of all beings, and of each of their organs, corresponds perfectly with their functions . . ." (12). Whitman became interested in phrenology as early as 1849, when he had a reading performed by Lorenzo Fowler. According to Jerome Loving, Whitman's score of "6" for "Amativeness" and "Adhesiveness" translated into strong propensities toward sexual passion and friendship (150).

Fowler and Wells published Whitman's second edition of Leaves of Grass in 1856, only after Whitman expunged "certain objectionable passages" (Loving 213). Fowler and Wells did not list themselves as publishers of the book, however, and Whitman had a falling out with the phrenologists soon thereafter.

Whitman's voice in "New York Dissected" inclines more toward reportage than in "Letters from Paumanok" and the "Sun-Down Papers," perhaps because he seeks to "dissect" New York City in detail for the reader.


Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

William Pannapacker, "Life Illustrated," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Walt Whitman, New York Dissected: A Sheaf of Recently Discovered Newspaper Articles by the Author of Leaves of Grass, ed. Emory Holloway and Ralph Adimari (New York: Rufus Rockwell Wilson, 1936).

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