Atlantic Citizens: Nineteenth-Century American Writers at Work in the World

Atlantic Citizens: Nineteenth-Century American Writers at Work in the World

Atlantic Citizens: Nineteenth-Century American Writers at Work in the World

Atlantic Citizens: Nineteenth-Century American Writers at Work in the World

Synopsis

By looking beyond the page and into the extraordinary lives of Walt Whitman, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Grace Greenwood, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller and Frederick Douglass, this book uncovers their startling contributions to transatlantic culture and makes the argument that literature is dependent upon other modes of professional creativity in order to thrive. Leslie Elizabeth Eckel shows how these six figures shaped their careers in the fields of education, journalism, publiclecturing and editing in productive relation to their development as imaginative writers. To see Walt Whitman co-producing foreign editions of his work with British poets while exuberantly breaking free from verse strictures on the page, or to witness Margaret Fuller reporting from the battle ground in revolutionary Rome as well as writing her country's first feminist treatise is to comprehend more deeply the ways in which these writers acted in the transatlantic sphere. By practicing Atlantic citizenship, they were able to achieve critical distance from the United States and, paradoxically, to catalyse its ongoing growth.

Excerpt

It should come as no surprise to those who know Walt Whitman that the poet chose to mark the United States centennial in 1876 by celebrating himself. As he prepared the ‘Centennial Edition’ of Leaves of Grass for distribution at home and abroad, he composed a ‘personal’ letter ‘To the Foreign Reader’ of his works. In this letter, which he intended to serve as a preface to the edition, Whitman planned to ‘enfold the world’ with his words and to bind its varied nations and peoples together with ‘new formulas, international poems’. His vision of a new world order of literary ‘Adhesiveness’, or emotional attachment, would stand on the shoulders of personal relationships rather than institutions of government. Whitman proposes:

To begin, therefore, though nor envoy, nor ambassador, nor with any official
right, nor commission’d by the President - with only Poet’s right, as general
simple friend of Man - the right of the Singer, admitted, all ranks, all times -1
will not repress the impulse I feel, (what is it, after all, only one man facing
another man, and giving him his hand?) to proffer here, for fittest outset to
this Book, to share with the English, the Irish, the Scottish and the Welsh, - to
highest and to lowest, of These Islands - (and why not, launch’d hence, to the
mainland, to the Germanic peoples - to France, Spain, Italy, Holland - to
Austro-Hungary - to every Scandinavian, every Russ?) the sister’s saluta
tion of America from over Sea - the New World’s Greeting-word to all, and
younger brother’s love.

Whitman goes to great lengths to tell his foreign readers precisely what he is not. Neither an ‘envoy’ nor an ‘ambassador’, he plays no ‘official’ . . .

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