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Title: The New York Press

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: March 29, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00447

Source: New York Aurora 29 March 1842: [2]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: This piece is unsigned. However, Whitman was the editor of the Aurora when this editorial was written, and Herbert Bergman identified him as its author in Walt Whitman, The Journalism. Volume I: 1834–1846 (New York: Peter Lang, 1998). The Whitman Archive editors agree that the style and content of the piece are consistent with other known Whitman writings of this period.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Gabrielle K. Engstrom, and Kevin McMullen




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The New York Press.

It is almost impossible to calculate the number of papers that are printed in the city of New York. We shall only attempt, therefore, to give a short sketch of the leading ones.

Without vanity, we can say that the Aurora is by far the best newspaper in town. It is bound to no party, but fearless, open, and frank in its tone—brilliant and sound, pointed without laboring after effect, ardent without fanaticisim, humorous without coarseness, intellectual without affectation—and altogether presents the most entertaining melange of latest news, miscellaneous literature fashionable intelligence, hits at the times, pictures of life as it is, and every thing else that can please and instruct—far beyond any publication in the United States. Its chief editor, and his coadjutors, are among the ablest writers of America; and each one "knows his part, and does it well."

Perhaps the next best paper as regards abstract merit, is the Evening Post.1 This daily is unexceptionable, what there is of it; but the reputation of a refined poet, and the course that must be pursued in order to make a readable paper, clash with each other. To our mind, and we have not hestitated ever to express the opinion, Bryant is the best poet who writes in the English language.2 His fame will endure as long as Americans retain a love for the beauty of sentiment or delicacy of style. From what we now say, however, let no one infer that we think the Post what a newspaper ought to be; our opinion is very different from that.

The Commercial Advertiser stands next upon the list.3 Col. Stone is a good writer,4 and never perpetrates any thing but what is good, as far as its style is concerned. The Commerical is generally a candid paper, and never keeps back its sentiments from fear. To our mind this is a merit which covers a multitude of sins. We commend the Commerical.

The American5 is somewhat of the same order as the Commercial, but not near equal to it in ability, and also far beneath it in sincerity. No man who reads the American can fail to form an opinion that its editor is a man of violent prejudices, and somewhat narrow ideas.

Religious people who wish a sixpenny daily,6 take the Journal of Commerce.7 The Journal generally has late news; but no doubt its editors are hypocritical, and have very few of the sentiments they profess.

The Express8 is rather a stupid affair in some respects, though, if it had not come out lately with a ridiculous attack upon the small papers, we should be inclined to speak favorably of it in others.

The Courier and Enquirer9 is a violent and vindictive partisan print, professing to be an organ of whiggery.10 Some of the whigs acknowledge it, and some do not.

The Tribune11 is a tolerable paper, conducted with much fairness, and ability, and perhaps receives about as much of the confidence of its party as any press in the United States.

Our near neighbor, the Sun, is known to every body;12 for not to know the Sun argues one's self unknown. Though the Sun is conducted with no great spirit, it has its merits; and we venture to say obtains as large a circulation as any paper on the continent, or perhaps the world.

The Standard13 is a rickety affair, which nobody ever sees. Such a paper might have satisfied people twenty years ago, but at the present age it is as much out of date as cocked hats, or trains to ladies' gowns.

The Herald14 is a paper which nothing that we can say can convey our opinion more strongly of. It is a scandal to the republic.

The New Era has a circulation somewhere between 800 and 1000. It is dying very fast, and is only sustained by corporation favor.15

Very few really good papers are published in New York. Most of them are bound up in partisanship, or predjudize, and are incapable of taking enlarged and comprehensive views of matters and things. Five sixths of them are directly or indirectly under the control of foreigners; they therefore, though possessing some marks of ability, are not imbued with any wholesome American spirit. They cannot and do not come out with that fiery enthusiasm in the cause of truth and liberty—that vigor of advocacy—that engery and boldness and frankness which will ever mark the apostle of the new system—the system which teaches far different doctrine from the rusty, cankered, time-honored, anti-democratic philosophy that looms up in Europe, and is planting its poisonous seeds too widely among us.


Notes:

1. Founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, the New York Evening Post survives today as the tabloid New York Post. In the nineteenth century it was one of the most influential papers in New York City, and one of the leading Democratic papers in the country. As the debate over slavery intensified in the late 1840s, however, the paper began to distance itself from the Democratic party, aligning itself first with the newly-formed Free Soil party in 1848 before eventually supporting the Republican party upon its creation in 1854. [back]

2. William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878) served as the editor of the Evening Post for nearly fifty years, from 1829 until his death in 1878. He was also one of the most famous and popular poets in the United States in the early-to-mid-nineteenth century, best known for his poem "Thanatopsis" (1817). [back]

3. An evening newspaper, the New York Commercial Advertiser was founded by lexicographer and author Noah Webster in 1793 as the American Minerva. The name was changed to Commercial Advertiser in 1797. [back]

4. William Leete Stone (1792–1844) was the editor of the Commercial Advertiser from 1821 until his death in 1844. Prior to his time at the Advertiser he had edited a number of other political and literary papers, and would later become a respected writer in his own right. [back]

5. A semi-weekly newspaper, the American (or the New York American) was quite likely an anti-immigration, nativist paper, possibly associated with the emerging nativist movement that would result in the formation of the "Know Nothing" political party in 1844. While not much is known about the paper, Library of Congress' Chronicling America project notes that it was "[p]rinted for the publisher, by J. M. Elliot" (see Chronicling America's entry for the paper: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030019/). [back]

6. In this instance, sixpenny is used as an adjective to describe the cost of the paper. In this period of penny dailies sold on the street, a sixpenny would likely have been a subscription paper, and rather expensive compared to a paper like the Aurora. [back]

7. The Journal of Commerce was founded in 1827 by abolitionist Arthur Tappan. Gerard Hallock and David Hale soon took over ownership of the paper, and quickly became known for their knack at news-gathering, "not only in the coverage of Wall Street, where their paper's interets lay, but also in obtaining the earliest foreign news from incoming vessels" (Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism. A History: 1690–1960, 3rd ed. [New York: The Macmillan Co., 1962], 181–182). The Journal of Commerce is still published today. [back]

8. The New York Express (sometimes called the Evening Express and the Daily Express) was founded in 1836 by brothers James and Erastus Brooks. While initially a Whig paper, its stance shifted towards the nativist Know-Nothing party in the 1850s, before eventually becoming Democratic. [back]

9. The New York Courier and Enquirer was created from the merger of the New York Morning Courier and New York Enquirer in 1829, when it boasted the largest circulation of any paper in New York City. Its owner and editor James Watson Webb quickly turned it into "one of the chief papers in New York and a leading spokesman of the Whig party" (Mott, 182, 260–261). [back]

10. Promoting the values of the Whig political party. The party was founded in 1834 and dissolved in 1854, with some factions becoming part of the newly formed Republican party and some part of the nativist American party (formerly the Know-Nothing party). [back]

11. The New York Tribune was a young paper in 1842, having just been founded by Horace Greeley the previous year. Greeley (1811–1872) would serve as the Tribune's editor and publisher until his death. The paper generally supported liberal Whig and Republican causes, and heavily endorsed the presidential run of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. [back]

12. The first highly successful penny daily paper, the New York Sun was published from 1833 to 1950. It was originally published by Benjamin H. Day, and was known for its somewhat sensational content and popularity among the lower classes. Ownership was handed over to Day's brother-in-law Moses Beach in 1837; Beach was in charge in 1842 at the time Whitman wrote this editorial. [back]

13. A daily newspaper founded and edited by John I. Mumford (1791–1863). It seems to have originally been published in the early 1830s as the New York Standard & Statesman before ceasing publication for a number of years; it was then re-established as the Standard in 1840, in both instances edited by Mumford (see the entries for the Standard on Library of Congress' Chronicling America project: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030504/ and https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86071235/). [back]

14. A daily newspaper published from 1835 to 1924, founded and edited by James Gordon Bennett. The values of the Herald and the Aurora did not usually align. Later in Whitman's career, however, when editorship of the Hearld had passed to Bennett's son, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., Whitman would publish thirty-four poems in the paper, more than in any other periodical during his lifetime. See the page for the New York Herald in the Archive's Poem in Periodicals section for more on the paper, including Whitman's poems published there. [back]

15. Edited by Levi D. Slamm, the New Era regularly sided with Tammany Hall, the New York faction of the Democratic party, and was often at odds with the Aurora. Whitman's prediction that the paper was "dying fast" was correct, as it ceased publication in August 1842, but not before publishing an original poem by Whitman. For more about the New Era and Whitman's poem published there, see Wendy Katz, "A Newly Discovered Whitman Poem About William Cullen Bryant," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 32, no. 1 (2014): 69–76. [back]


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