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like Swinburne, Buchanan, W. B. Bell, W. M. Rossetti, Symonds, and Professor Dowden, and of his popularity amongst ourselves not the least significant sign is the publication of the two handsome volumes, the titles of which we have placed first at the head of this paper.
In these volumes is contained, it would appear, all that Whitman desires to be preserved of his published writings. The one bearing the title Specimen Days and Collect is, with the exception of one or two juvenile pieces, in prose, and as the title indicates, is of very varied contents. First of all, we have a number of pages in which Whitman gives an account-an account, we may remark in passing, which is not without interest-of his ancestry and early days. Next, we have a number of memoranda written during the war of attempted secession, and here copied verbatim from a series of soil'd and creas'd livraisons, each composed of a sheet or two of paper, folded small to carry in the pocket,' and 'blotch'd here and there with more than one blood-stain,' having been hurriedly written, sometimes at the clinique, not seldom amid the excitement of uncertainty, or defeat, or of action, or getting ready for it, or a march.' The memoranda here given from these 'lurid and blood-smutch'd little note-books' bear all the marks of their origin. They are written in swift, vigorous, telling words; while the intense realism by which they are pervaded, and the terrible scenes which they depict, often make their reading exceedingly impressive. Following these, and forming the concluding part of the Specimen Days, is a number of memoranda written during and after the author's recovery from a serious and prolonged illness, brought on by his exertions during the war, and consisting, for the most part, of descriptions of natural and human scenes. They are full of fine thought and feeling, and are frequently not less poetical than some of the finer passages in his poems. In the Collect are included the remarkable essay entitled 'Democratic Vistas,' the prefaces to the various issues of his poems, and a paper on 'American Poetry.'
Whitman's prose is, in our opinion, not equal to his verse. Passages of great beauty and power occur; but taken as a
whole the style is less terse and vigorous.
It is marred, too,
by mannerisms, and particularly by the frequent occurrence of long and often clumsy parentheses. As a rule the shorter pieces are written in much sounder and healthier English than the longer, though some of these are admirably written, and lead one to suspect, as a not unfriendly critic has observed, that his every-day prose is distorted intentionally. For a right understanding of Whitman's poetry, however, a careful study of his prose writings, and more especially of the section having the somewhat strange, though not altogether inappropriate, designation of 'Collect,' is indispensible. It is here that he explains himself, and unfolds the aims and principles by which he is guided and inspired.
Leaves of Grass, originally, as we have remarked, a thin quarto of about a hundred pages, has now grown into a goodly sized octavo of nearly four hundred closely printed pages, containing close upon three hundred separate poems. Whitman has given regular titles to comparatively few of them. Most of them are headed instead with their first line or phrase, as, e.g. ‘As I pondered in silence,' 'I hear America singing,' 'When I heard at the close of the day.' The greater part of them are distributed under the headings- Inscriptions,' 'Children of Adam,' Calamus,' 'Birds of Passage,' 'Sea-drift,' 'By the Roadside,' 'Drum-taps,' 'Autumn Rivulets,' 'Whispers of Heavenly Death,' 'From Noon to Starry Eve,'' Songs of Parting.' Unconnected as they seem, however, it must not be supposed that they have no connection or are without arrangement. Though without formal connection, they have one which is real, and are intended to be read in the order in which they stand, as what may not unfitly be called an Epic of Life. On first reading, as most readers will probably acknowledge, they are somewhat repellent. There is so much in them we do not expect to find, so little respect is paid to our conventional ideas, and the author obtrudes himself so ostentatiously upon our attention, that after a few lines we are disposed to throw the book aside as a compound of egotism and nonsense. further reading, however, the illusion is gradually dispelled. First the attention is arrested by single lines or isolated pas
sages, and as we proceed we become aware of an intellectual wealth and suggestiveness, a subtle charm, a personal force, a rush and glow of overmastering passion which we have seldom met with elsewhere; and though there are passages from which we turn away with repugnance, we cease to wonder at the warm and extremely eulogistic terms in which the admirers of Whitman are in the habit of speaking of him.
But whatever our estimate of Whitman's writings may be, Whitman himself is unquestionably a notable figure, certainly one of the most notable America has produced. As Professor Dowden has remarked,- What cannot be questioned after an hour's acquaintance with Walt Whitman and his Leaves of Grass, is that in him we meet a man not shaped out of oldword clay nor cast in any old-world mould, and hard t name by any old-world name. In his self-assertion there is a manner of powerful nonchalantness which is not assumed; he does not peep timidly from behind his work to glean our suffrages, but seems to say, "Take me or leave me, here I am, a solid and not inconsiderable fact of the universe." He disturbs our classifications; he attracts us; he repels us; he excites our curiosity, wonder, admiration, love: or our extreme repugnance. However we feel towards him we cannot despise him. He is a "summons and a challenge.” He must be understood and so accepted, or must be got rid of. Passed by he cannot be.'* Nor are the sources of this singular power far to seek. They are to be found not so much in his art, for as an artist he is in some respects confessedly weak, but in the lofty purpose by which he is inspired, and in the ardent, and almost fierce enthusiasm with which he has from first to last devoted himself to it. This purpose, to put it in the fewest words, is nothing less than to inaugurate in America, by means of a genuinely native imaginative literature, a new era of intellectual and spiritual development. Or to put it differently, and to use the eloquent words of W. M. Rossetti, he 'occupies at the present moment a unique position on the globe, and one which, even in past time, can have been occupied by
* Studies in Literature, 1789-1877, p. 473.
He is the one
only an infinitesimally small number of men. man who entertains and professes respecting himself the grave conviction that he is the actual and prospective founder of a new poetic literature, and a great one-a literature proportional to the material vastness and the unmeasured destinies of America; he believes that the Columbus of the continent, or the Washington of the States was not more truly than himself in the future a founder and upbuilder of this America.' This purpose is surely a noble one, and which, if at all seriously followed, cannot fail to be fruitful in extraordinary power. And that this is the purpose which Whitman has continually set before him he has frequently declared. Democratic Vistas," his various Prefaces, and several other of his prose essays may be taken as a sort of apology justifying it. But, nowhere has he given more noble utterance to it, as Mr. Rossetti has also pointed out, than in the following lines:
'Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades,
'I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other's necks,
By the manly love of comrades.
For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme !
Besides an 'imperious conviction and the commands of his nature as total and as irresistible as those which make the sea flow, or the globe revolve,' Whitman's incentives to this great and unquestionably beneficent task are partly in the condition of American society, and partly in the character of American literature.
The spectacle presented by American society he describes as 'appalling.' Everywhere he sees hollowness, hypocrisy, deceit; in the business classes a depravity 'infinitely greater than has been supposed;' corruption, falsehood, and maladministration in all branches and departments of the official services, whether national, state, or municipal;' in fashionable life flippancy,
tepid amours, weak infidelism, small aims, or no aims at all, only to kill time;' in literature a scornful supercilliousness;''in the churches and sects the most dismal phantasms usurping the name of religion.' The best class we shew,' he writes, 'is but a mob of fashionably-dress'd speculators and vulgarians. Though an unwavering believer in democracy, and joyfully recognising the 'immense success of the New World democracy in lifting the masses out of their sloughs, in materialistic development, products, and in a certain species of intellectual culture,' he is nevertheless painfully oppressed by the conviction that so far in its social aspects, and in really grand religious, moral, literary, esthetic results, it is an almost complete failure.' 'In vain,' he exclaims, do we march with unprecedented strides to empire so colossal, outvying the antique, beyond Alexander's, beyond the proudest sway of Rome. In vain have we annexed Texas, California, Alaska, and reach north to Canada and south to Cuba. It is as if we were somehow being endowed with a vast and more thoroughly-appointed body, and then left with little or no soul.' Or take the following passage from the 'Democratic Vistas,' which, while it illustrates his style in prose writing, clearly indicates one at least of the reasons why he has devoted himself to his self-imposed task :
'Let me illustrate further, as I write, with current observations, localities, &c. The subject is important, and will bear repetition. After an absence, I am now again (September, 1870) in New York city and Brooklyn, on a few weeks' vacation. The splendour, picturesqueness, and oceanic amplitude and rush of these great cities, the unsurpassed situation, rivers and bay, sparkling sea-tides, costly and lofty new buildings, facades of marble and iron, of original grandeur and elegance of design, with the masses of gay color, the preponderance of white and blue, the flags flying, the endless ships, the tumultuous streets, Broadway, the heavy, low, musical roar, hardly ever intermitted, even at night; the jobbers' houses, the rich shops, the wharves, the great Central Park, and the Brooklyn Park of hills, (as I wander among them this beautiful fall weather, musing, watching, absorbing) the assemblages of the citizens in their groups, conversations, trades, evening amusements, or along the by-quarters-these, I say, and the like of these, completely satisfy my senses of power, fulness, motion, &c., and give me, through such senses and appetites, and through my esthetic conscience, a continued exaltation and absolute fulfilment. Always, and more and more, as I cross the east and north rivers, the ferries, or with the