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Walt Whitman Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge

Whitman's novel Franklin Evans sold more copies during his lifetime than any of his other books, despite the fact that Whitman himself described it as "damned rot - rot of the worst sort." 23

In 1847, Whitman reviewed Omoo, an early novel by a young writer named Herman Melville, who later wrote Moby Dick. "We therefore recommend this 'narrative of adventures in the south seas,' as thorough entertainment - not so light as to be tossed aside for its flippancy, nor so profound as to be tiresome," 24 Whitman wrote in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

The title of Leaves of Grass was a play on words - "grass" was a slang term for the silly, informal pieces that compositors like Whitman would set in type when things got slow at work. 25

Ralph Waldo Emerson thought Leaves of Grass was genius; however, for later editions he told Whitman to cut out parts he thought were too sexy. Whitman refused. 26

Whitman wrote several shamelessly glowing reviews of his own work. "An American bard at last!" he wrote in one such unsigned tribute to Leaves of Grass in 1855. This talented young new poet, Whitman anonymously declared, would bring "hope and prophecy to the generous races of young and old." 27

The writer Henry James wrote a scathing review of Drum-Taps, Whitman's 1865 collection of Civil War poems. "''To become adopted as a national poet," then 22-year-old James wrote, "it is not enough to . . . discharge the undigested contents of your blotting-book into the lap of the public." An embarrassed James later called the review a "little atrocity . . . perpetrated . . . in the gross impudence of youth." 28

An English fan of Whitman's, named Anne Gilchrist, sailed to America with the intention of marrying Walt Whitman and having his baby. The two became friends and saw each other frequently, but it took Gilchrist two years to realize that she was not exactly the gay poet's type. 29

As rumors circulated of Whitman's failing health in 1889, a local cemetery owner in New Jersey contacted the dying poet and asked him to write a poem about the cemetery that they could use in their advertisements - all this in exchange for a free burial plot. 30

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