A Child's Reminiscence

A Child's Reminiscence

A Child's Reminiscence

A Child's Reminiscence

Excerpt

Whitman's life, in some ways as well known to us as that of Dr. Johnson, is in other respects strangely obscure. Until recently we knew about it principally through the poet's own reminiscences --written or told friends in his later years. And the discoveries of modern scholars have made it increasingly clear that those reminiscences were marred by the inaccuracies of an old man's memory, and the reticence about certain events which was part and parcel of the caution which Walt said humorously "phrenologists put at seven" (the highest degree). Hence every discovery of personal material has a real, not merely sentimental, biographical significance, and is important as it illuminates or explains some corner hitherto obscure. The present series of articles does not clear up any of the problems dark because Whitman did not wish to discuss them. But it does give us a view on an event of great interest in Whitman's career from a new angle.

When Whitman had finished the second edition of the Leaves of Grass in 1856, he seems for a while to have suspended his poetic activities. He tells us (in his Preface to the Centennial edition of Leaves of Grass, 1876) that he considered, "after chanting the songs of the body and existence" that he should make a companion volume to "exhibit . . . the same ardent and fully appointed personality . . . with cheerful face estimating death, not at all as cessation." This passage seems to refer partly to "Passage to India" but obviously "A Child's Reminiscence" (to give the first title of "Out of the Cradle") must have been not only one of the projected poems but probably the first. Whitman later decided that the whole volume was beyond his power, but at first he was merely confident that he had found his voice again.

Thus after three years of silence he began to expand the original plan of his book. And through the columns of the Saturday Press, edited by his friend Henry Clapp, and the chief organ of that group of young men who met at Pfaff's restaurant, Whitman sought and found the publicity which was to herald the regular publication of the hitherto more talked . . .

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