Walt Whitman Additional Biography

Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111206126-Whitman.jpg Walt Whitman (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Leaves of Grass, Whitman’s controversial book of poetry, grew over nine successive editions from a ninety-page folio in 1855 to a book of nearly 440 pages in 1892. Its celebration of the human body and sexuality in frank and explicit language, particularly in the original long poem “Song of Myself,” and in two collections of poems added in 1860—“Children of Adam,” which treats heterosexual love, and “Calamus,” a work of a homoerotic nature—drew fire for the poems’ “indecency.” Ralph Waldo Emerson failed to convince Whitman that inclusion of “Children” would be fatal to his career, and Whitman—as he did throughout his life—remained true to his vision.

On June 30, 1865, Secretary of the Interior James Harlan fired Whitman from his post in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. After reading a copy of Leaves of Grass that he found at Whitman’s work site, Harlan decided its author was immoral and must be dismissed at once. In response to this treatment of a poet whom he considered a national icon, the polemicist William Douglas O’Connor wrote The Good Gray Poet, a pamphlet denouncing Harlan’s action and defending Whitman’s character. The publication did much to defuse accusations of indecency and to implant a benign image of the poet in the American mind.

Whitman’s early acceptance in England has been attributed to publication of a selected edition of his poems by London publisher...

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Biography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Walter Whitman, Jr., was born in West Hills, Long Island on May 31, 1819. His mother, Louisa Van Velsor, was descended from a long line of New York Dutch farmers, and his father, Walter Whitman, was a Long Island farmer and carpenter. In 1823, the father moved his family to Brooklyn in search of work. One of nine children in an undistinguished family, Whitman received only a meager formal education between 1825 and 1830, when he turned to the printing trade for the next five years. At the age of seventeen, he began teaching at various Long Island schools and continued to teach until he went to New York City to be a printer for the New World and a reporter for the Democratic Review in 1841. From then on, Whitman generally made a living at journalism. Besides reporting and freelance writing, he edited several Brooklyn newspapers, including the Daily Eagle (1846-1848), the Freeman (1848-1849), and the Times (1857-1859). Some of Whitman’s experiences during this period influenced the poetry that seemed to burst into print in 1855. While in New York, Whitman frequented the opera and the public library, both of which furnished him with a sense of heritage and of connection with the bards and singers of the past. In 1848, Whitman met and was hired by a representative of the New Orleans Crescent. Although the job lasted only a few months, the journey by train, stagecoach, and steamboat through what Whitman always referred to as “inland America” certainly helped to stimulate his vision of the country’s democratic future. Perhaps most obviously influential was Whitman’s trade itself. His flair for action and vignette, as well as descriptive detail, surely was sharpened by his journalistic writing. The reporter’s keen eye for the daily scene is everywhere evident in Leaves of Grass.

When the first edition of his poems appeared, Whitman received little money but some attention from reviewers....

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Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, in West Hills, near Huntington, Long Island, New York, the second child of Louisa and Walter Whitman. His father was a carpenter who later speculated unsuccessfully in real estate. The family moved to Brooklyn in 1823, and Whitman attended school until the age of eleven, after which he worked as an office boy in a law firm. The owner of the firm enrolled him in a library, and Whitman was soon engrossed in reading, particularly the novels of Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. The following year, he worked in the printing office of a newspaper, and by 1835 he had found work as a typesetter in New York. He was also contributing conventional poems to an established Manhattan newspaper.

The poor economic situation in New York compelled Whitman to seek work elsewhere, and in 1836 he began teaching at a school on Long Island. This was the first of several poorly paid, short-term teaching positions that Whitman held, on and off, for four years. His interest in journalism continued, and in 1838, with financial support from his family, he founded, published, and edited a newspaper, The Long Islander, which continued under his stewardship for a year. Whitman had also developed an interest in politics; in 1840, he campaigned for President Martin Van Buren, and the following year he addressed a Democratic political rally in New York. In 1841, he published eight short stories in the Democratic Party paper, the Democratic Review.

Over the following decade, Whitman remained active in politics and continued his journalistic career, editing the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1846 to 1848. Fired from the Eagle for being a Free-Soiler(the Free-Soilers opposed slavery in newly annexed territories), he edited the Brooklyn Freeman, a Free-Soil journal, until September, 1849. From 1850 to 1854, Whitman operated a printing shop and worked as a part-time journalist and building contractor. He followed an irregular routine, spending much time walking and reading. His family was puzzled by his apparently aimless life, not realizing that Whitman was developing the knowledge and aesthetic vision that would shortly burst forth in spectacular fashion.

In July, 1855, the first edition of Leaves of...

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Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it,” wrote Whitman in his letter to Emerson that prefaced the second edition of Leaves of Grass. According to this criterion, Whitman has indeed proved himself many times over, as it is hard to imagine twentieth century American poetry without him. His influence has extended to poets such as William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, Robinson Jeffers, Carl Sandburg, and Allen Ginsberg. Their admiration for Whitman is a tribute to the universal appeal of his long song of himself: his transcendental metaphysics, his emotional honesty and complexity, his lyric skill, and his faith in the future of his country.

Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Walter Whitman was born at West Hills, near Huntington, Long Island, May 31, 1819, the second child of Walter Whitman and Louisa Van Velsor, of English and Dutch descent. The father, a farmer and carpenter, had difficulty supporting his large family, which grew to nine children, though one died in infancy. In 1823 he moved to Brooklyn, where Walt, his only son ever to show marked ability, received a meager public school education, learned the printing trade, became a journalist, and finally became a poet.

After teaching school on Long Island and starting and abandoning a newspaper, the Long Islander, Walt Whitman worked as a printer in New York City and at twenty-three edited a daily paper, the New York Aurora. Returning to Brooklyn in 1845, he worked on the Long Island Star and for two years edited the Brooklyn Eagle, from which he was dismissed because of his editorial defense of the “free soil” faction of the Democratic Party. For three months in 1848 he was employed on the New Orleans Crescent but again returned to Brooklyn and for a few months edited a free soil paper called the Freeman. Thereafter for five years he built and sold houses and dabbled in real estate. He did not edit another paper until 1857, when he took charge of the Brooklyn Times for approximately two years.

While employed as printer, journalist, and editor, Whitman published sentimental poems and stories in newspapers and magazines, but he first became a serious poet when he printed at his own expense the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855. The book’s transcendental theme of seeking life experiences in nature was acclaimed by Ralph Waldo Emerson and a few others but was mostly ignored or denounced as unpoetic because the lines did not rhyme or scan, or as indecent because of the frank language. Undaunted, the poet brought out a second edition in 1856 and a third in 1860. The latter was published by Thayer and Eldridge in Boston, but the outbreak of the Civil War bankrupted this firm, and Whitman did not have another commercial publisher until 1881.

He participated in the war by ministering to the wounded, writing accounts for the New York and Brooklyn newspapers, and composing his Drum-Taps poems, which he printed in 1865. Whitman spent long hours in the hospitals helping the wounded veterans. He visited them regularly, comforting the sick and the dying and writing long letters for them to their worried and bereaved families. After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Whitman wrote what were to become his two best-known poems, “O Captain! My Captain!” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” which he included in an annex to the second issue of Drum-Taps. From 1865 until 1873, when he suffered a paralytic stroke, he was employed as a government clerk in Washington. His mother having died in 1873, for several years he lived with his brother...

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Biography

(Poetry for Students)

The second of nine children, Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, on Long Island, New York, to Quaker parents. In 1823, the Whitmans moved to...

(The entire section is 275 words.)

Biography

(Poetry for Students)

Walt Whitman was born on Long Island, New York, in 1819, into a climate of patriotism for the newly created nation of the United States. His...

(The entire section is 426 words.)