Walt Whitman: Critical Reception

Within our exhibit on Walt Whitman, I wanted to investigate Whitman’s critical reception during his lifetime. While Whitman is often regarded as one of the greatest American poets today, it took decades for his work to be as appreciated and esteemed as it is now. I plan to focus solely on reviews of Leaves of Grass that were published during Whitman’s lifetime. I hope that these reviews will shed light on the truly innovative nature of Leaves of Grass and the controversies it aroused.

The first object I chose to examine is Charles Eliot Norton’s “Review of Leaves of Grass (1855)” published in Putnam’s Monthly: A Magazine of Literature, Science, and Arts. Norton’s review demonstrates the confusion that surrounded the first edition of Leaves of Grass. Norton’s his emphasis on Leaves of Grass as truly American fits into our group’s overall theme of Whitman’s embodiment of American ideals.

The second object I chose to examine comes from the “Leaves-Droppings” section of the second edition of Leaves of Grass. This review from the London Weekly Dispatch interested me because it provides insight on Whitman’s critical reception abroad. I thought it would be interesting to include a review that Whitman chose to re-print his second edition of Leaves of Grass.

The next object is an anonymous review that was published in The New York Times after the publication of the third edition of Leaves of Grass. The author addresses some of Whitman’s changes in this edition as vulgar and suggests that Whitman become more “civilized.”

The fourth object I chose to inspect is a review by William Douglas O’Connor, which examines the changes Whitman made in the 1867 publication of Leaves of Grass. This review was unique because the author praised Whitman as a truly American poet, while most reviews criticized him. I found it particularly interesting that The New York Times printed a brief protest of Leaves of Grass directly above O’Connor’s column.

Lastly, I chose to look at Peter Bayne’s review of the 1971-1972 edition of Leaves of Grass. Bayne’s disapproval of the work shows that, even after 20 years, Leaves of Grasscontinued to garner criticism and instill controversy.

I hope that these objects will provide a well-rounded examination of Whitman’s critical reception during his lifetime.


Lanier as a Southern Writer

In analyzing Sidney Lanier and his decline in popularity, I am looking at Lanier as a Southern writer.  As the first of four sub-sections, this part will introduce Lanier as a man and author of his times and birthplace. It will focus on his experience in the Civil War and many of his dialect works that communicate his thoughts about the Reconstruction.  These themes that are essentiall to Lanier’s poetry partially explain why he could not appeal to a broader audience after his death.

The photograph of Lanier’s birthplace in Macon, Georgia, seen in The Lanier Book: Selections in Prose and Verse from the Writings of Sidney Lanier, depicts his southern, rural origins. Sidney Lanier spent tens years in this two-story, clapboard house owned by his grandparents Sarah and Sterling Lanier.

In George Herbert Clarke’s Some Reminiscences and Early Letters of Sidney Lanier, there is a photograph of Sidney Lanier in his Confederate uniform in 1866. Sidney Lanier fought for the Confederacy and was a prisoner at Point Lookout where he contracted tuberculosis, which was the cause of his death many years later. The Civil War influences several of his works such as “The Dying Words of Stone Wall Jackson,” Tiger Lilies,” “Devil Bombs,” “Conferderate Memorial Address,” and “The Sherman Bill.”While Lanier praised his comrades who lost their lives for their convictions, he illustrated the horrors of war and the conceit of the South that believed led to such destruction

In Mose Daniels’ illustrated version of The Marshes of Glynn, there is a photograph on the page “Glooms…lights,” which depicts the majestic landscape that goes nicely with the text. Deeply inspired by nature, Lanier wrote numerous poems about the scenary of the South.The looming trees and dangling moss in the photograph convey the mystery and the splendor Lanier was trying to evoke in the poem.

The manuscript in pen of “Them Klu Klux” shows Sidney Lanier’s thought process and use of dialect, which is essential to his southern pieces. Though composed in Baltimore and never published during Lanier’s lifetime, this work exemplifies the poet’s strong southern sympathies and antagonism towards the Republican Party for meddling with Georgian life.

The “Sherman Bill” printed in Macon, Georgia in 1867 reveals Lanier’s views on the the Reconstructionist  South  and use of dialect. Printed in a local newspaper in 1867, this prose piece would have resonated with many of the paper’s readers. Unlike in the manuscript, one is not able to discern the writer’s formulation of his thoughts and styly but can see an example of a finished product in the type of material that would have circulated his work.

Democratic Vistas of the Future

Within our group exhibition on Walt Whitman, I wanted to focus on his democratic sensibilities and his embodiment of the American liberal tradition. In order to accomplish this task, I decided to approach the project from two angles and show how Whitman projected this image and then how it was supported and proliferated by his critics.

1.) For my first item, I decided to start with a visual image because I knew it would speak most immediately to Whitman’s democratic sensibilities. In order to capture his quintessential image, I chose the frontispiece portrait found in the first edition of Leaves of Grass, where Whitman strikes his iconic carpenter’s pose adorned in a large rimmed hat and workman’s clothing.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1856: Brooklyn, NY). Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

2.) For my second item, I chose the preface from the first edition of Leaves of Grass written by Whitman. Right away, Whitman opens up his book with the mention of “America,” suggesting that it will remain central to the entire text. Furthermore, Whitman goes on to say that “America does not repel the past,” which immediately evokes a fearless confrontation with the past along with a strong inclination toward the future. This preface, in conjunction with image one, demonstrates that Whitman chose a very specific image to convey to the public, and that he eventually tailored his career around ensuring the continuation and survival of the American spirit.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Brooklyn:1855). Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

3.) For my third item, I opted to abandon Whitman’s portrayal of himself and move onto critical receptions. The review pictured below within the magazine Modern Thought suggests that Walt Whitman functions as one of the leaders of modern thought, made notable by his democratic leanings and emphasis on equality. I think this item complements item one and two well because it demonstrates that the public not only equated Whitman to America, but also to democracy, liberalism and general progressive thought.

Camden’s compliment to Walt Whitman (Traubel, Horace, 1858-1919). Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

4.) For the fourth item, I am including another criticism found within the same book of collected critical writings owned by the Johns Hopkins Special Collections. Unlike item three, this article speaks more specifically to Whitman’s democratic sensibilities – with its title “The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman.” I found this piece compelling because it underscores the democratic qualities present within his poetry and not just his prose, more specifically “Democratic Vistas.

Camden’s compliment to Walt Whitman (Traubel, Horace, 1858-1919). Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

5.) And lastly, for my fifth item, I narrowed my sources down even further and decided on the article “A Study of Walt Whitman, The Poet of Modern Democracy.” This criticism combines elements of both the third item and the fourth item, insofar as it calls Whitman both democratic and modern. As a result, this piece can be see as the ultimate accumulation of Whitman’s influence, made possible through the contributions of critics and Whitman himself.

Camden’s compliment to Walt Whitman (Traubel, Horace, 1858-1919). Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

An Exhibit on Obscurity: Lanier as a Poet of Baltimore

In deciding on what to show for our upcoming exhibit, I stumbled into a display of Sidney Lanier as a poet of a different time and place altogether. He is a very Southern poet, a Baltimorean, and a man whose work is characterized by the Victorian, Romantic society in which he lived. These things have contributed to his fall into relative obscurity since his death.

The first thing I chose for my portion of the exhibit was my favorite poem by Lanier: “An Ode to the Johns Hopkins University”, as it was published in the JHU Circular for the fourth commemoration day. The second thing I chose was the Sidney Lanier memorial relief sculpture on the Homewood campus. Both of these things speak to Lanier’s Hopkins appeal and the specificity of his audience.

I chose two poems from the collection of Lanier’s works that his wife edited and published after his death. “An Frau Nanette Falk-Auerbach” and “A Ballad of Trees and the Master” are two poems that are very specific to the time period and place in which Lanier wrote. The first is a poem written in German and then written again in English. This speaks to Lanier’s education in German language and literature, as well as the high population of German immigrants in the United States at the time. The second poem makes reference to slavery and has overarching themes of religion. Neither of these are particularly popular topics anymore and the use of German culture and language does make some of Lanier’s work obscure to current audiences.

The final thing I chose was Lanier’s book Bob: the story of our mockingbird. It’s a lovely book written about the mocking bird Lanier and his wife kept as a pet who died while they lived in Baltimore. It is illustrated and the copy we have is extra-illustrated. A few weeks ago, there was a more specific blog post about the book, but I want to focus on a slightly different aspect of it. Writing a book that is specifically about his mockingbird could easily limit the audience that the book appeals to. This speaks to the specificity of his audience and style and how he fell out of the general canon of poetry in the last hundred years or so.

All of these will be part of our online exhibition coming very soon and I can’t wait to share Lanier and his work!

Everyone Selectively Loves Lanier

My group is studying Lanier’s popularity as a poet and Southerner before and after his death. My focus is to demonstrate how editors and publishers emphasized certain qualities of Lanier and his work as a marketing technique after he died. For this reason, I decided to use a combination of memorials and books to demonstrate how memorials and editorial framing methods were used to appeal to a new readership.

My first exhibit will be the first page of the Onandaga Health Association Memorial. This was a lecture given in 1942 at Syracuse University, and it lauded Lanier’s literary genius, focusing on his nature poems. The beginning of the paper gives some autobiographical information, and mentions how he combated tuberculosis and enlisted as a confederate solider. In 1942, people were suffering from World War II, so the manner in which this memorial was written was probably supposed to make him relatable to the average American at the time. It was a good way to commemorate him on his centennial, because the people could relate to him as a veteran and an American who was proud of his land.

The second image I would like to use is the cover of The 1949 photographic edition of The Marshes of Glynn. The cover has the title on the top half, written in a windy font over a red background, and the bottom half is an image of imbricated, marsh-sand layers. I would like to include this because it was published a few years after World War II, and it uses photography to add aesthetic value. The pictures may also function to help readers envision the poem so that the language becomes easier to understand. This makes it more pleasant and appealing to readers that may have otherwise equated it to dense, academic writing.

My third image would be the front cover of The Lanier Book. It has an image of two children, a boy and a girl playing with floral vines and sitting opposite one another with a large shell between them. It is aesthetically pleasing to adults, and children may identify with it.

The next image I would like to use is the cover of the 1907 version of Hymns of the Marshes. I would like to use the cover because I am already comparing the covers of other books to observe their editorial values. This green cover has a gold-embossed title with an image of the marsh within a diamond shape below. It was designed to evoke a nature-like feel, and aside from being pretty, the cover is durable. This alone, besides the contents of the book, is strong evidence of editorial impressions in a posthumous publication.

My fifth image is the cover of Poems of Sidney Lanier. This is a posthumous book that still has its dust jacket and is a reprint of the 1916 edition of the book. I would like to present the dust jacket in my exhibit to compare it to other older bindings of the same text. I am studying the arrangement of two versions of this book, and I have listed the 1903 print as a secondary source in my bibliography.

PIcture Perfect: A Study of Edgar Allan Poe

In the era of Facebook, we don’t bat an eyelash at displaying photos of ourselves doing the most trivial things. Banana mustache picture? Don’t mind if I do. You want me to throw up an ironic peace sign with my friends? I’ll tag it! But once upon a time, portraits were not taken lightly, and the subject of the picture would take great pains to convey his or her personality through the way that he or she dressed, sat, and peered towards the camera. In fact, through careful study, one can learn a great deal about renowned writer Edgar Allan Poe, by observing one of his only known likenesses, a daguerreotype from 1848 that depicts him, unsmiling, with his brows furrowed, staring gauntly into the camera.


This portrait is very interesting, when juxtaposed with some of the drawings and likenesses of him that are rendered in his books during his life and after his death. As with daguerreotypes, these sketches and drawings are meant to convey specific messages and meanings about Poe, his life, his legacy, and his writings.


Just as one can learn about how Poe wanted to portray himself through his daguerreotype, we can learn how editors wanted him to be perceived by readers throughout his literary career both during his life and after his death.


For example, the book Edgar E. Poe: Poems contains a very interesting sketch of Edgar Allan Poe. It contains lots of shadows, and very few smooth, blended lines. This portrait is most likely indicative of the editor’s desire to portray Poe as being similar to the dark content of his work. His image largely evolved into the caricature of a troubled writer.


Another book, Poe, has a more precise drawing of Poe that seems to be based off of the 1848 daguerreotype, however, the artist seems to have enhanced his dark circles, contributing to the image that he was a sickly man during his life. 


The Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Volume is a more photo-like sketch of his likeness. He doesn’t look sad or distressed necessarily, but he isn’t smiling. He is well dressed, holding a pen, and the editors clearly wanted him to be portrayed as a successful writer. Similarly, he looks healthy and well rested.


The Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe is also a more positive portrait,. In this drawing, Poe is younger than he is in some of his other portraits. He is smiling, his eyes aren’t hooded, he is well dressed, and not sad at all


Clearly, many things can be garnered from the way that artists choose to render their subjects. Art history students dedicate their careers to finding out the hidden meaning behind portraits, and it is possible one can interpret the motives of editors by examining the pictures in novels and their interpretation of Poe’s likeness.


Exhibit Preview: Poe in the Classroom

After many months of research and sifting through rare books, manuscripts, newspaper articles, and more, it’s finally time to start putting together our exhibits. In just a few short weeks the online exhibition will be up and ready for public viewing. My group has decided to showcase how perceptions of Poe have changed over time by looking at various aspects of him and his work. For my specific focus, I’ve chosen to research how Poe is examined in the classroom. I’m going to be looking at how Poe has been taught at different points in history and how perceptions of him or points of focus may have changed over time. The following is a preview of the objects that will be displayed in the exhibit.

The first object is one that I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog post. This is the children’s book The Story of Edgar Allan Poe for Young Readers by Sherwin Cody. This book is interesting for my exhibit because it is a biography of Poe written in 1899 published by the Werner School Book Company. The name of the publisher hints that this series was probably widely read and used by schoolchildren throughout the U.S. with publishing houses in Chicago, New York, and Boston.

The second object that I have chosen comes from the Edgar Allan Poe Collection here at Hopkins. I’ve not been able to view this object yet, but it seems very promising. It is a copy of lecture notes from an American Literature class that contains notes on Poe from the early twentieth century. This is going to be great to look at, especially for comparison to my own notes I have on Poe as a student in the twenty-first century.

The third object is an article on Poe from The Johns Hopkins Alumni Magazine in 1930. This article, titled “Poe in the light of literary history” was written by Professor of English Edwin Greenlaw and focuses on how to view Poe in comparison with the rest of the literary world. It’s interesting that this comes from one of Hopkins’ own professors and sheds a light on how Poe was studied during this time.

My fourth object comes from the book Approaches to Teaching Poe’s Prose and Poetry. This is a modern guide to teaching Poe as it was published in 2008 and will give insight into how Poe is taught in classrooms today.

Lastly, I chose a poster of the poem “Annabel Lee” printed in Baltimore in 1935. This specific poster was meant for classroom use with the intention of many children viewing it day after day. It gives a unique perspective on Poe in the classroom because it is a different tool for learning than the books or essays described above.

That’s all there is for now but be sure to check out the full exhibit coming soon!