Stacy explores Whitman’s journalism career in sabbatical research

History professor Jason Stacy presented sabbatical research last week on Walt Whitman’s journalism career from before the first publication of “Leaves of Grass” in 1855.

Photo courtesy of Jason Stacy

Whitman’s journalism career began in the early 1840s and as it progressed, Stacy said Whitman began to develop a writing style of “scenes and peeps” that took into account sights, sensations, thought and the rhythm of walking.

“Whitman was an urban loafer before he was loafing on the grass,” Stacy said.

Such scenes included the New York market, a New York boarding house, a synagogue and a house of refuge for juvenile delinquents, according to Stacy.

Hints of future works emerged in Whitman’s journalistic writing, according to Stacy, such as in a piece Whitman wrote about ferries for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. This piece, Stacy said, was the first Whitman writing on ferries, preceding the poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.”

Some of Whitman’s journalistic works, according to Stacy, presented “xenophobic, narrow-minded and tedious” ideas. One such example Stacy presented comes from a piece Whitman wrote for the New York Aurora in March 1842 about the “lowest class of foreigners” interrupting a meeting regarding funding changes for New York public schools.

“Bands of filthy wretches, whose very touch was offensive to a decent man; drunken loafers; scoundrels whom the police and criminal courts would be ashamed to receive in their walls…,” Whitman wrote. “These were they who broke into the midst of a peaceful body of American citizens – struck and insulted the chosen officers of the assemblage, and with shrieks, loud blasphemy and howlings in their hideous native tongue…”

Though he worked for various newspapers from the 1840s to 1850s, Stacy said Whitman’s last industry job was with the Brooklyn Daily Times from 1857-1859, where he worked after two editions of “Leaves of Grass” had been published.

From his 15 years in journalism, Stacy said Whitman was able to increase circulation for two newspapers but needed “total editorial control.” Editorial limitations, according to Stacy, pushed Whitman to seek out a new medium for his writing.

Stacy’s interest in Whitman’s journalistic past began with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Whitman about “Leaves of Grass,” in which Emerson alluded to “a long foreground somewhere for such a start.”

The word “foreground,” according to Stacy, implies an origin story, which for Whitman was his previous journalism career. Stacy initially believed in 2001 that Whitman’s journalism was “key” to understanding the poetry, but his research took a “humbling turn” in 2009. At that time, Stacy said he found it better to focus on making Whitman’s journalism available for others to read alongside “Leaves of Grass.”

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: Historical Studies

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Switch to our mobile site