THE future poet of democracy was born near Huntington, Long Island, on the last day of May, 1819, and was named for his father, Walter Whitman, a local farmer and, later, carpenter and builder. There must have been some hereditary fault in the family, for two of his brothers were mentally defective and one of his sisters was decidedly queer. Walt himself, however, was growing strong, well-developed and handsome, with a remarkable mind and a rather unusual personality.
The family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1824 and soon afterward Walt went to school, but left it at the age of twelve to become a printer's apprentice. A voracious reader, he took also to writing, which occupation remained, in various forms, permanent with him. Both in style and content of writing he was unorthodox, and consequently difficult to appreciate and easy to misunderstand. Anyway, the publishers and editors he worked for found him too individualistic, rather unsociable, and stubbornly unwilling to get adjusted to ordinary requirements of literary work. He did not keep his jobs long.
Whitman finally succeeded in getting a better position, that of editor of the conservative Brooklyn Daily Eagle ( 1846-1848), then lost it for advocating abolitionism, only to be invited for the same anti-slavery views to take charge of the Brooklyn Daily Freeman.
Just before he accepted the latter position, however, Whitman made a trip to New Orleans, to do some editorial work, but suffered a severe mental disturbance, as a result of which his personality underwent a marked change, and he began to spend much time wandering about, associating and conversing with a great variety of simple people. As an individual, he became lonesome, keeping company with few men and hardly any women at all. But as a poet and thinker, he matured and deepened.
In 1855 he set to type his own great book of poetry, Leaves of Grass, a product of many years' work, but it was little appreciated at first and much criticized, possibly because it was written