Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

An Unknown Daguerreotype

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

An Unknown Daguerreotype

Article excerpt

This image derives from a lost daguerreotype. Without the original, dating is difficult, but judging by Whitman's appearance-his beard grayer than in the New Orleans portrait-this portrait probably derives from the period between 1849 and the early 1850s. This shadowy time in Whitman's biography is sometimes referred to as his "Travelling Bachelor" era-after a series of short essays, "Letters from a Travelling Bachelor," that he wrote for the New York Sunday Dispatch between 1849 and 1850 under the pen name "Paumanok."The first essay of the series concludes with Whitman extolling the virtues of beards, writing that a "full-whiskered grizzled old chap" who worked on a fishing boat had informed him that "an application, while out there, of the razor or shears was equal to aches," and the only defense against cold and illness "was to let their beards and hair grow."

But much more than Whitman's hairstyle was changing in 1850. In the spring of that year, he vented his anger at Daniel Webster, a longtime abolitionist who had come out in support of fugitive slave laws in March. For reasons we can only guess, however, Whitman unleashed not a scathing editorial, but a blunt, free-verse poem that likened Webster to Judas. …

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