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Biography

Whitman found work as a freelance typesetter and as a journalist. The latter profession excited him immeasurably. "How it made my heart double-beat to see my piece on the pretty white paper, in nice type," 7 he recalled of his journalism career. In 1842, Whitman published a novel, an allegory about the dangers of alcohol entitled Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate. Whitman, at the time, was a supporter of the temperance movement, in part because of his father's drinking. The novel was commercially successful, though Whitman later described it as "damned rot - rot of the worst sort." 8

In 1846, Whitman took over as editor for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He brought literary reviews to the paper for the first time, writing articles on the works of authors like Herman Melville and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was forced out in 1848 over a political dispute with his boss. His boss backed the pro-slavery Democrats; Whitman was an unabashed free-soiler. So he temporarily left New York to work at a paper in New Orleans. He soon returned to New York, however, and resumed his career as a journalist.

Whitman cut a memorable figure in the city. "Duding himself up," wrote authors Mike Wallace and Edwin G. Burrows in Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, Whitman "strolled around town, sporting a polished cane, absorbing scenes and characters. . . . Whitman particularly explored the plebeian world of popular culture, visiting fire companies, gambling dens, whorehouses, and theaters, and he wrote up richly detailed sketches of newsboys, pawnbrokers, stage drivers, salesclerks and butchers." 9 Whitman wasn't just observing life for his own personal amusement, or even for his journalistic pursuits. Whitman had started writing poetry, and the sounds, sights, and smells he encountered on his walks were all being employed in a new style of poetry.

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